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Amazon headquarters search shows what’s vital about local infrastructure

This editorial was written by CAEDC CEO, Jonathan Bowser for the Cumberland Valley Business Journal.

When site selectors and business decision makers decide where to invest their business, people often think about incentives, regulation, workforce, and the political climate of the municipality, state, or country. While we all know these factors are extremely important in the decision making process, the one that is probably the most important and most forgotten about, is infrastructure. This includes the basics of water, sewer, roads, bridges, ports, airports, rail and utilities.

When you really stop and think about it, you realize the majority of the largest, vibrant cities in the U.S. and globally have excelled at the infrastructure game. Infrastructure is needed to manufacture and distribute goods, and provide the primary necessities that people and businesses need to thrive and survive in society. As cities and towns seek to grow, infrastructure becomes the primary means to achieve their ends. Investing in infrastructure allows for growth and also allows a community to retain its existing residential and commercial/industrial base. For example, all major cities in the U.S. have a major airport, some have ports, an adequate road network along a major interstate, rail accessibility for industrial and commuter use, and have in recent years made major investment in alternative energy.

Point in case is Amazon’s most recent decision to invest in a 2nd headquarters. The twenty cities or regions that have made the final cut all have one thing in common—strong infrastructure that can accommodate Amazon’s demand of 50,000 new employees and billions in new investment. Meaning, they have the road network, close proximity to major International Airports, a strong commuter rail system, water and sewer capacity for new housing developments, and utility connectivity.

Here in South Central PA, we have adequate infrastructure as it relates to road network and our close proximity to other major markets, but we lack in other areas that have not allowed us to successfully go after investment opportunities such as Amazon or Apple. The South Central Region is the 3rd largest region in the Commonwealth behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We are the 2nd fastest growth region in terms of population after the Southeast Region, which includes Philadelphia. This is a true testament that we have great potential and have achieved many successes. This further demonstrates that we are on the cusp of landing investments such as Amazon or Apple HQ2s in the future.

However, we as a region and a county need to focus on vastly improving our infrastructure and cannot just wait for the federal government to figure it out for us. We need to invest in alternative energy such as solar and wind, commuter and industrial rail, our regional airport and smaller county based airports, the expansion of I-81 down to the Maryland line, and in water/sewer/utility to upgrade our existing systems and allow for expansion into more rural areas that will allow for future growth.

South Central PA has a lot to offer in the way of amenities, quality of life, school systems and close proximity to large metro areas within a day’s drive. We have a skilled workforce, great colleges/universities, excellent healthcare systems and affordable living options. Despite these strong attributes, the lack of infrastructure will continue to have our region miss great investment opportunities and lose talent to other regions who know the importance of these infrastructure enhancements and how they are the primary decision making factor for businesses.

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