Amazon is reviewing 238 proposals from communities to locate a second world headquarters.
“Amazon HQ2” will employ up to 50,000 people with an average annual salary of $100,000. One of Amazon’s key requirements for HQ2 is direct access to mass transit. Amazon knows that being in an environment that allows for a carless lifestyle is critical to retaining modern talent.
Detroit, which is employing a full-court press for HQ2, is considered hamstrung by its relatively meager transit network. That's ironic, given the recent launch of the Q line street car, which, though a step in the right direction, does little to help the Motor City compete with numerous other cities with rich transit networks offering light rail, bus rapid transit and even subways.
Traverse City did not submit a proposal to Amazon. Certainly, the Traverse City area could not check the box on this and other requirements, including a minimum metropolitan population of a million. But Amazon’s recognition of transit’s importance to attracting and retaining high-tech talent should not go unnoticed by Traverse City area leaders.
A recent Traverse City Record-Eagle article highlighted the traffic congestion our region is experiencing. The rapid growth of Grand Traverse County has put pressure on its roads.
Development that is largely displacing farms and forest continues to force travel origins and destinations farther away from each other. This development is not served by other modes of transportation, so all travel must be done by car, maximizing road pressure.
Earlier this year, voters supported a millage for the Bay Area Transportation Authority that included a high-frequency downtown route. This new route, which is being planned and expected to launch in late Spring 2018, is designed to appeal to commuters and visitors. Getting even a small percentage of workers and tourists’ cars off area roads will significantly ease road congestion. Having a viable transit alternative works well with Traverse City’s recent Lyft and Uber service to entice residents to leave their car at home, or even sell a car.
But will self-driving cars solve all of our mobility issues? Self-driving, or autonomous, cars will provide yet another option to ease resident’s minds about not driving, but they will not completely replace other modes of transportation, just complement them.
In addition to easing road congestion, better transit in our region will position us for the worker of the future. A 2016 University of Michigan study found that 69 percent of 19-year-olds had drivers licenses, down from 90 percent in 1983. Millennials make up the bulk of high tech workers — so their needs are important considerations when discussing strategies to attract them.
Traverse City already has a budding tech sector for a town our size. Our quality of life is one attribute that helps attract young workers.
Better transit is needed to create an environment where having a car is a choice, not a necessity.
We may never be home to a large Amazon headquarters, but with better transit we can become a place where small high tech companies can start up and thrive.
Rob Bacigalupi helped build one of the premier downtowns in the Midwest