Harrisburg unlikely to land new Amazon HQ

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Oct 24, 2017 5:55 PM

Photo by Jordan Brown/WITF

(Harrisburg) -- Harrisburg is one of 238 cities to throw its hat in the ring for Amazon's second headquarters, which promises 50,000 new jobs and billions of dollars of investment for the winner.

Harrisburg's proposal highlights the region's quality of life and close proximity to research universities and major east coast cities.

But John Jordan, clinical professor of supply chain and information systems at Penn State University's Smeal College of Business, said the chance Amazon would locate in the midstate is pretty remote.

Two important factors: there's no large international airport within an hour's drive and the talent pool isn't big enough.

"The computer science pipeline of graduates from a Georgia Tech, from a Michigan, from MIT, Harvard--it's just not something Harrisburg can compete with," Jordan said. 

Amazon picking another city might not be the worst outcome for Harrisburg. Some cities are promising huge incentives to lure Amazon, but Jordan said there aren't a lot of cities in robust-enough financial shape to risk giving away money in tax breaks that might not provide the expected return. 

He noted many cities--in Pennsylvania and elsewhere--are stuggling with large public pension burdens. 

"And then you're going to say, 'ok we're not going to collect any real estate taxes, we're not going to collect any X, Y, or Z taxes. We'll give you infrastructure upgrades, we'll build more schools, we'll extend the airport,' whatever it might be," he said. 

An analysis from Moody's ranked Pittsburgh and Philadelphia high on the list of contenders for the new headquarters. If one of those cities lands Amazon, the midstate could see a boost from tourism.

Jordan's top three picks for the new headquarters are Austin, Boston, and DC. But, he said,  "Think about the last time Amazon did something predictable."

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