I love the audacity of Camden entering the national sweepstakes to land Amazon’s second U.S. headquarters.
I love the why-not-ness of Camden — once famously if not fatuously “rated” as the absolute worst among American cities — making a play for the 50,000 jobs the company expects the headquarters to create.
Tuesday’s unanimous vote by the Camden County Board of Freeholders to craft an Amazon proposal on behalf of the city and county echoes the bold thinking of a century ago, when the Greater Camden Movement dreamt big dreams of a magnificent new regional metropolis on the east side of the Delaware River.
It reminds me of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when what seemed an improbable if not impossible vision to transform a postindustrial wasteland along that same river into a magnificent new public place first took shape.
And the vote reflects a confidence stemming in part from the recent redevelopment explosion the state’s Grow NJ tax incentives have made possible in the city. Who could have imagined a massive new advanced manufacturing plant like Holtec International would be built on the long-moribund New York Shipbuilding site in South Camden?
“Camden will be offering [Amazon] intangibles that other locations … can’t come to the table with,” Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Camden is a smart investment,” said Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon. “Corporate leaders such as Holtec, Subaru, the Sixers, and Campbell’s already know that Camden has a unique and deep portfolio to offer Amazon.”
The city can indeed make a credible case for consideration as a national headquarters site, particularly for a company like Amazon, whose prosperity gospel is inspired by the experience of having not so much disrupted as replaced the status quo.
A move to Camden would likewise be transformative, if not revolutionary.
It also would be practical: The city has plenty of available land downtown and along the central and northern portions of its waterfront. The downtown campuses of Rutgers and Rowan Universities, as well as Camden County College, are genuine assets, as are Camden’s fledgling techie community and existing transit connections.
It’s a nonstop, five-minute Speed Line hop from Fifth and Market in Camden to Eighth and Market (and the Market-Frankford Line) in Philly; I-676 and the Walt Whitman Bridge surely connect central Camden with Philly International Airport as reliably as Center City is connected to the airport by I-95 or the Schuylkill Expressway.
Conceptual plans for construction of a rail line between Glassboro and Camden call for a station at Newton Avenue and I-676. It would serve nearby neighborhoods as well as the city’s emerging corporate campus district, which already is home to Campbell Soup’s world headquarters and soon Subaru of America’s headquarters as well.
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is helping municipalities prepare their Amazon bids and will review bids before submission; in Camden County, “multiple agencies are working with the EDA to formulate the application and have it prepared to go by the deadline,” spokesman Dan Keashen said Friday.
All well and good. But I believe Camden’s bid has a much better shot if it is paired, joined, or at least constituted in a way that’s complementary to Philadelphia’s already formidable pitch.
While Amazon’s corporate website asks metro areas to submit a single application. it goes on to say that applications (due Oct. 19) “may contain multiple real estate sites in more than one jurisdiction.” And the company also encourages submissions that would “meet or exceed the needs of our project.”
What better way to “meet or exceed” Amazon’s needs than to propose a two-city, two-state headquarters that could utilize and energize both downtowns at the core of the region? And what better way to impress a company CEO like Jeff Bezos, who’s famous for adventurous moves such as buying the Washington Post and Whole Foods, with the boldest of bold proposals?
After all, the notion of a second national headquarters — not a regional branch, satellite, or affiliate, but a second center — has raised eyebrows among some commentators. The very idea!
So while some may be inclined to dismiss the very idea of Camden as an asset and enhancement to a joint application, it would be wise to remember the Philly of the early 1980s — a decaying repository of elementary school field-trip destinations, a city hemorrhaging population, jobs, and hope.
The very idea of Philadelphia vying for a company like Amazon would have seemed laughable, or worse.
But that was then; like Philly, in recent decades Camden has become a far more plausible suitor for corporate titans such as Subaru and, let’s hope, Amazon.
Creating and making a dual Camden-Philadelphia application on such a tight deadline would be complicated. But so what?
Such an application would embody the sort of unconventional approaches that have made Amazon such a success.
So how about it, Mayor Redd? What do you say, Mayor Kenney?
Why not explore the possibilities for success that a two-city, two-state bid could bring?
Go for the Amazon second headquarters together.