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How Would A Nearby Amazon HQ2 Affect Louisville?

Robert Scoble/Creative Commons

Louisville isn’t getting Amazon’s second headquarters, which promises high-paying jobs and major investment. That the city was cut from the tech giant’s longlist is perhaps not too surprising — until you consider neighbors that are still in the running.

There are four cities in Amazon’s final 20 that are considered Louisville’s peers, according to the Urban Cities Institute at the University of Louisville. They are: Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville and Pittsburgh.

Geographically and population-wise the cities nearest to Louisville share some characteristics with it. But the strength of their pitches could have propelled them to the next round, or perhaps some other nuance about their workforce or industry strengths could have made a difference.

The reasons Louisville is out of the running aren’t clear yet, but the city could still be changed by Amazon’s second headquarters — if another city in the region gets it. Here are some of the ways:

It could help Louisville’s labor pool…

“Having another huge corporate employer two hours away, it makes it easier to recruit people into Louisville companies because maybe their spouse finds a job in Indianapolis and they try to live somewhere in between. And, yeah, they have long commutes but sometimes you do that to have two jobs for a two-career family,” — Lyman Stone, a Kentucky native and economist based in Washington, D.C., who writes about demographics and is an adviser at the consulting firm Demographic Intelligence.

…or attract talent away

“Having a big employer who’s perhaps hiring some similar skills in Indianapolis would probably make more competition for employers who are in Louisville. So if you're a similar employer in Louisville, like maybe UPS, you might find keeping your employees is a little bit harder.” — Stone

“If the city is close enough to Louisville — like it's a Nashville, it's an Indianapolis — that might be enough to lure some people from Louisville away. Either people that are there right now or who would’ve chosen Louisville and instead may say, 'Oh, I guess Indianapolis is where it's going on, I'll go there instead." — Joshua Drucker, an associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

It could boost Louisville businesses

“When the headquarters needs services, they'll be buying services in a regional market, if they need a paper supplier or if they need office furniture. And Louisville producers will be a big part of that if it moves to Indianapolis or even Columbus. … Having Amazon in Indianapolis will increase demand for goods and services throughout the whole region.”  — Stone

It could raise Louisville’s profile

“In general a place like Louisville could benefit if they don’t choose Boston or Los Angeles. But that would be the case whether it’s nearby or not. ... It’s a big marker saying, ‘We looked all around North America and this place, which happens to be like Louisville in some ways, can be a great place for an Amazon.'” — Drucker

Or it could hurt Louisville’s long-term tech hub prospects

“On the whole, if you're looking long term it’s less likely that you’ll end up being a major tech hub. The tech market right now is pretty small in Louisville. There's, I don't know, a 10 percent chance it'll get really large if the city plays its cards right. I'd say if Amazon goes somewhere nearby, it's a little bit less likely. Just because there's already a head start in that other location.” — Drucker

Louisville Leaders React

On Thursday, city leaders had mixed reactions to the news.

“Greater Louisville submitted a very competitive bid for Amazon HQ2. We will continue to swing for the fences every day,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, and Kent Oyler, president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. in a joint statement.

Republican mayoral hopeful and Metro Council member Angela Leet, on the other hand, took to Twitter to criticize Louisville as being unwelcoming to businesses.


Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.