Why Little Rock’s creative breakup letter with Amazon felt so icky

Breakups have never been fun for me. But why do I feel like I’m the only one who felt that way today?

Some context:

Today is the due date for Amazon’s request for bids from North American cities hoping to be the site of Amazon’s future second headquarters. I’m sure you’ve seen it all over the internet.

My current town, Little Rock, will not be submitting a bid. To their credit, it appears that city leadership took the time to put serious thought into the proposal. Their takeaway? Little Rock neither qualifies, nor would likely benefit from a swarm of 50,000 workers flooding into to the city in a mere few years. I view this as an impressively honest and realistic takeaway from a mid-sized city that may legitimately suffer in the short term. I walked downstairs at 10:30am to listen to the press conference in person. Instead of submitting a bid, Little Rock chose to create the social media campaign #lovelittlerock to, as the Mayor stated, “respectfully breakup with Amazon, before they broke up with us”. Whoa! Plot twist!

If you haven’t already, take a second to read the letter that they published as a strategically placed, full page ad in the Washington Post (owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos).

..and the video

Don’t get me wrong. I love this city. I wasn’t raised here, but it has provided me with amazing experiences, adventures and backdrops for some of the most memorable moments of my life. So yes, I #lovelittlerock.

Also, I’m certainly appreciative that my city took an honest, realistic assessment. A sincere thanks to the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce for your effort on this initiative. Knowing where you are is the first step to getting where you’re going. As you likely predicted, a viral initiative like this would certainly foster dialogue and criticism. My office was definitely buzzing with opinions. My take?

First of all, you should understand my potential bias:

  • I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas: A metroplex that most definitely has a shot at landing Amazon. I likely see landing Amazon in Little Rock as easier than what is realistic.
  • I am 28 years old: I have a bias towards long term growth vs short term drawbacks.
  • I work in tech: I don’t see a surplus of people like me in Little Rock. My desire for more techies in The Rock likely blurs my understanding of the potential drawbacks.

Here are my top 5 reasons why this whole thing feels “icky”:

  1. Breaking up with Amazon felt like Little Rock was breaking up with me. I agree, Little Rock is not the best fit for Amazon, but there are a few of us that do think bigger might be better (did I mention I’m originally from Texas?). My gut reaction to the announcement was “Maybe I’m not a good fit for this city.” I honestly wonder if my hopes and dreams for the future align with Little Rock’s. I don’t say that to be snarky and I don’t plan on moving anytime soon, but it’s an interesting concept. What if we courted cities for good fits in the same way we court potential future spouses?
  2. Breakup letters should never be public. It felt so strange. “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” I know this whole thing is just a silly analogy, but free t-shirts, snacks and snapchat filters felt so inappropriate. I am all for promoting our beautiful city, but the timing felt off. Can the proclaimed “Love Little Rock Day” be tomorrow, so I can sulk today?
  3. It’s hard to sympathize with the Little Rock character in the break-up analogy. How would you like it if a stranger publicly announced “I don’t want to date you and here are all the reasons why.” Again, I know it’s a silly analogy. I just overheard a friend nearby say “We were never dating in the first place!!”. I can take a joke and it’s definitely an intentionally humorous approach. However, since we designed the joke, I wish we would have made ourselves look better. To Amazon and anyone else out there potentially considering Little Rock as a home for your business: We may have gotten a little carried away. It was all for fun. We are a humble town with skilled workers and a huge upside!
  4. Sure, a tech-savvy workforce does exist in Little Rock. However, I think the actual number of us who practice “tech-savviness” in this city is relatively small. Rather than listing this as a strength in our letter to Amazon, I would have preferred for us to take a more humble approach, with a more realistic or transparent presentation highlighting potential vs stretching our current state. Growing technical talent from the ground up is so, so, so hard and takes so, so, so long. Downtown’s Little Rock Technology Park, where I work from, is one reason we are off to a good start. We certainly do have big names like Stephens, Dillard’s, Windstream and Acxiom. But, to be honest, we need more big fish, so us small guys can patiently wait for leftovers and crumbs. We need more companies like Apptegy in town, so that we can trade and poach talent from each other. My selfish perspective? A mass migration of thousands of Amazon’s developers, data analysts and engineers to central Arkansas would no doubt benefit people like me who aspire to hire dozens to hundreds of seasoned developers in the next decade, in this city.
  5. It also wasn’t clear to me how to defend this initiative to all my non-Little Rock friends who saw this on social media. My hope, more than anything, is that the #lovelittlerock campaign can foster a dialogue. What’s the call to action here?

Feedback please?:

What was your take on the video/letter? Am I over-thinking this?

Business owners / entrepreneurs: What do you find attractive about Little Rock as a potential home for your business? If you could write up your own RFP, what would your requirements be?

Where do you think Amazon’s second headquarters will land?


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