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             The Prime Locale for Amazon's Second Headquarters is the               Freedom Valley of Metropolitan Philadelphia

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Amazon states that it is seeking the best location for its second headquarters.

That Prime Locale for Amazon is the Freedom Valley of Metropolitan Philadelphia.

Though there is doubt as to whether The Contest being run by Amazon is truly to select the "best" location for its second headquarters or, more likely, is to provide leverage for Amazon to negotiate with the locale or locales already chosen by Amazon to be its second headquarters, this news article focuses on what locale would be the best location for Amazon based on the criteria set by Amazon in its request for proposals as well as the location that provides the greatest upside potential for Amazon in its anticipated growth in future years.

That locale is the Freedom Valley.

The Freedom Valley is an area of twelve municipalities and five school districts in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia. From the Perkiomen to the City of Philadelphia and from the North Penn to the Main Line, the Freedom Valley includes the communities of Audubon, Blue Bell, Conshohocken, Eagleville, East Norriton, Fairview Village, Fort Washington, Gulph Mills, Jeffersonville, King of Prussia, Lafayette Hill, Plymouth Meeting, Trooper, Valley Forge, and Worcester.  The Municipality of Norristown is the center of the Freedom Valley.  With more than 200,000 residents, the Freedom Valley is home to the third largest community in Pennsylvania. Only the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are larger than the Freedom Valley.

The Freedom Valley embodies the spirit of the Four Freedoms, the freedoms outlined in a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941:  Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech and Expression.  Key aspects of these American values developed in the Freedom Valley.  These freedoms have not only enhanced the lives of local residents but citizens throughout the United States of America as well as throughout the world.

The namesake family of Norristown wrote the wording on the Liberty Bell.  The future of a young nation was tested as troops marched from Fort Washington through Lafayette Hill, Conshohocken, and Gulph Mills on the way to the winter encampment in Valley Forge. Transportation evolved in the Freedom Valley from one of the first canals and the second turnpike in American history to being the site where part of the Apollo spacecraft was made in man's quest to the Moon.  The first Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania is located in the Freedom Valley as is the national headquarters of the American Baptist Church.  One of the first integrated cemeteries is within the Freedom Valley.  Stations of the Underground Railroad dotted the landscape, providing protection to African-Americans fleeing slavery and seeking freedom.  The region includes one of the oldest newspapers still published in the United States.  The Freedom Valley was the site of the first public school in Pennsylvania and one of the first coeducational schools in the United States.  Once home to one of the largest centers of motion picture production in the world, the Freedom Valley is home today to the largest retail center in the United States.

It is the Freedom Valley that would likely meet the criteria to be the Prime Locale for Amazon to site its second headquarters.

Consider the benefits of being sited in Metropolitan Philadelphia first and then the benefits of being sited in the Freedom Valley of Metropolitan Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Metropolitan Area meets many of the criteria set forth in the request for proposals issued by Amazon:

  • Philadelphia is located midway between two of the most important centers of power in the world - the City of New York and Washington. The center of finance, fashion, and advertising is 90 minutes to the north and the center of political power and regulations is 90 minutes to the south.

  • Philadelphia International Airport provides direct air service to almost every major market in the United States and serves as gateway to Europe. Additional direct flights can be added.

  • The metropolitan area has the population, the demographics, the educational levels, and the work experience that have served as a base to grow pharmaceutical, manufacturing, retail, and service industries known throughout the United States and the world.

  • Parents from throughout the nation and the world send their children to this metropolitan area to be educated. The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College, Villanova University, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and Temple University are among dozens of institutions of higher learning located in the region. Penn State University has several campuses within the region. The Hill School, The Haverford School, The Episcopal Academy, and other schools are also known for their outstanding educational systems.

  • With the exception of a volcano, almost everything one can think of is located within two hours of Center City Philadelphia. Every type of sport, art, music, theater, and cultural activity is nearby. Every type of faith has a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or house of worship nearby. The oldest Lutheran church and the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the nation are in Metropolitan Philadelphia. Every type of food is readily available for consumption. Medical services are among the highest quality in the world.

  • Cultural diversity is not just a slogan. It's reality. You can witness how the Amish live on farms to the west and gamble along the boardwalk of Atlantic City to the east. You can swim in the Atlantic Ocean and ski the mountains in the Poconos. You can pick strawberries and pumpkins in the fields and cut down your own Christmas tree. In sections of Metropolitan Philadelphia, the first day of deer season is a public school holiday while Rosh Hashana is a public school holiday in other districts.

  • Creativity has bred products and services that have been replicated throughout the world. The first digital computer was built in Philadelphia. Public library service, volunteer fire protection, and municipal water service were operating first in Philadelphia. The first art museum and first zoo were opened in Philadelphia. The oldest operating theater in the United States is in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is home to the first university, the first general hospital, and the first hospital for children in the United States. The oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade, first Mother's Day celebration, and the first Girl Scout cookies were baked in Philadelphia. The oldest outdoor retail market and one of the earliest farmers market are both still operational in Philadelphia.

  • Within Metropolitan Philadelphia are corporate headquarters for one of the largest media companies in the world, Comcast, as well as two of the largest financial firms in the world, Vanguard and SEI Investments. Major facilities for Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson are located in the region. Retailers that have helped shape the 21st century are headquartered in Metropolitan Philadelphia, including Urban Outfitters, David's Bridal, and Wawa.

While Metropolitan Philadelphia has many of the attributes sought by Amazon, the costs to operate within the City of Philadelphia are substantially higher than the costs to operate in the suburban areas of the metropolitan area.

There is only one location in Metropolitan Philadelphia - beyond Center City Philadelphia - that meets the criteria set by Amazon.

That locale is Norristown.  In the heart of the Freedom Valley.

Amazon has transformed the South Lake Union section of Seattle into a headquarters campus that provides both an urban and urbane setting for its employment base.

Amazon could so the same in Norristown.

Downtown Norristown has the land available that could serve as the base for the second headquarters of Amazon.  Land that has been fallow for years could sprout new high-rise buildings.  A campus that is both urban and urbane could be developed in this community. Buildings offering immediate occupancy are located nearby and could be utilized as the headquarters campus is built in Downtown Norristown.  As an alternative, if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so chose, more than 100 acres of land could be made available within Norristown for a more suburban-style campus.

Based on the request for proposals, transit is important to Amazon.  From walking and biking to mass transportation and from interstate highway travel to air travel by private plane or major carrier are all directly available or nearby to Norristown.

The Norristown Transportation Center includes bike, bus, trolley, and rail service connecting Norristown to locales throughout the region.  From Downtown Norristown, you can take a train directly to the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Center City Philadelphia.  SEPTA, as the mass transit system is known in the region, would be able to offer direct train service from Downtown Norristown to the Philadelphia International Airport.  Trolley service connects Norristown to the eastern Main Line and the 69th Street Station in Upper Darby where transfers allow direct access to large sections of Philadelphia and Delaware County.  Bus service connects Norristown to all of the major job centers in Montgomery and Chester Counties.  You can walk, jog, or bicycle from Downtown Norristown to Valley Forge and the rural areas of Montgomery County as well as into the urban areas of Philadelphia, including Center City.

A two-mile long roadway providing direct linkage to the Pennsylvania Turnpike is nearing completion.  That linkage provides direct access from Downtown Norristown to the interstate highway network serving Metropolitan Philadelphia and beyond.

Wings Field, located about 3 miles from Norristown, provides general aviation services in the Freedom Valley.

The tax structure is far more advantageous in the Freedom Valley as compared to the City of Philadelphia.  Corporate taxes that exist only in the City of Philadelphia would add costs to Amazon - costs that do not exist in the Freedom Valley.  Plans are underway to increase property taxes for commercial developments in the City of Philadelphia so that businesses would pay a higher tax on real estate as compared to individuals owning residential real estate.  Taxes for employees are substantially less in the Freedom Valley as compared to taxes in the City of Philadelphia.  Individuals working in the City of Philadelphia today pay up to 3 times the amount in municipal income taxes as compared to individuals working in the Freedom Valley.  For workers in the City of Philadelphia, the amount paid in municipal income taxes is higher than - and is in addition to - the amount paid in state income taxes.  Sales taxes on retail purchases are 33% higher in the City of Philadelphia as compared to sales taxes in the Freedom Valley.

Amazon has prospered in the retail marketplace through competition.  Amazon is now growing from an e-commerce and cloud computing juggernaut into a bricks and motor retailer.

Leaders of key aspects of the retail marketplace are nearby.  When IKEA came to the Americas, the Swedish firm decided to locate its North American headquarters in the Freedom Valley.  That American headquarters of IKEA - now the world's largest furniture retailer - is within 2 miles of Norristown.  The largest retail center in the United States - the King of Prussia Mall - is located within 2 miles of Norristown.  The headquarters of QVC, the largest home shopping broadcaster in the world and the 3rd largest e-commerce retailer in the United States, is located within 10 miles of Norristown.  The largest Whole Foods Store in Metropolitan Philadelphia is located within 2 miles of Norristown.  AmerisourceBergan controls about 20% of all pharmaceuticals sold and distributed in the United States; its headquarters is within 3 miles of Norristown.

The siting of the second headquarters of Amazon in Norristown would have ripple affects throughout the Freedom Valley and Metropolitan Philadelphia.  

Norristown is unique among all other locales in the United States in that the Freedom Valley has all of the key attributes sought by Amazon at costs that are substantially more advantageous as compared to the City of Philadelphia and provides a location that would allow on-going research and analysis of key aspects of competitors within the retail marketplace.

Amazon can benefit by locating its second headquarters in Norristown and the Freedom Valley within Metropolitan Philadelphia.

© 2017 – Richard McDonough