The news is abuzz with the announcement that Atlanta is a chosen finalist for the site of Amazon’s highly publicized “HQ2.” The company reportedly plans to spend around $5 billion constructing a new campus to house some 50,000 jobs. The economic prospects for the region have politicians, especially Governor Nathan Deal, ready to pull out all the stops to get Amazon to come to Georgia. The state is reportedly ready to offer the corporation over $1 billion in tax credits and incentives to get the campus built in Atlanta.
Atlanta is hardly the only city in the race and all the competitors seem to be assembling a package of corporate handouts to secure the construction investment and the high paying jobs that would follow. Many economists have opined that the pitches being offered could never be justified and the cities and states would never realize an economic benefit capable of covering the cost of the investment. The investment and the expenses for infrastructure and services would never level out. Throwing an extravagant offer at Amazon is just not prudent. But cities and states, including Atlanta and Georgia, are moving forward anyway.
Tax and regulation policies have led to Georgia being named as the top state for business for five years now. Atlanta is a city with diverse choices in entertainment and culture. The development boom that followed the 1996 Olympics led to Atlanta truly becoming a world-class city. The airport enables travelers to arrive in two thirds of the nation within two hours. The Georgia climate is desirable. What large corporation would not want to move to Atlanta?
The question should be whether we want Amazon. Sure, 50,000 jobs sounds tempting. But the past tells us that most of those employees will be moved here, not hired here. It will be more people in Atlanta traffic, more consumers of interbasin transfer water, more demand that state tax dollars be used to prop up Atlanta transit infrastructure, increased housing costs, more urban and suburban sprawl into Georgia forests and farmland, more strain on landfills. Is all this focus in Atlanta really healthy for our state?
We need to ask ourselves if a fraction of this Amazon sales pitch would be better spent encouraging the growth of homespun small businesses in Georgia’s other cities and small towns statewide. Connecting hundreds of ailing small towns with broadband could improve economic growth and educational outcomes throughout the state. We could build an employment base and economic future that enables small businesses, including our biggest industry, agriculture, to compete in a global marketplace. This would create a broad and healthy economy over the entire state, not just Metro Atlanta.
Or we can continue to sink all our tax dollars into a metropolis and continue to ignore the rest of the state. This choice is ours as our representatives at the capitol either hear from us or assume we agree with the governor and Atlanta.
Sam Burnham of Rome is a writer and an advocate for rural life.