DETROIT, MICH. - Walking around the minimalist but lux Shinola store in Midtown Detroit on Sunday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder inspected a leather watch, before making his way to the back of the spacious flagship to mingle.
It wasn't that the self-proclaimed "Nerd" wasn't interested in the timepiece — he owns four Shinola watches — but rather that this visit wasn't about shopping. This was about showing off Detroit and its "comeback" story — a seemingly common ambition these days as the city aims to entice Jeff Bezos and Amazon to open its planned second headquarters here.
Snyder joined his Canadian counterpart, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, on a tour of Detroit as part of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers 2017 Leadership Conference. While the three-day summit, which started in Windsor, was about spurring trade, transportation, and tourism in the region at large, the relationship between Ontario and Michigan, and specifically the recent joint Amazon bid, couldn't help but overshadow the affair.
Four days earlier, Detroit billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert submitted, online and via FedEx, a joint Detroit-Windsor proposal to lure Amazon to the area. The much sought after headquarters deal, which has about 100 contenders from various metro areas around the United States and Canada, could bring in 50,000 jobs and billions in new investments to whichever community gets the thumbs-up.
The application by Detroit and Windsor is somewhat of a rarity and those hoping to get the contract, believe the "two-cities-for-one" scheme could give the area a winning-edge and help secure the deal.
"It would be incredible, that's why we're really proud to have the international proposal go in with Windsor and Detroit doing it together because it sends a powerful message," Snyder said, before walking into the Shinola building. "I don't really know of any place else that can do one [proposal] at that scale. But I'm also proud we work well together on so many things. ... They got Toronto, also we had Grand Rapids. I think the unique one with Detroit and Windsor is hopefully a standout proposal, I'm looking to make the first cut."
Of the 100 or so submissions a first cut — down to about 20 finalist cities — is expected to come before the end of the year. Site visits, as well as "on-the-scene" interviews, would then occur.
Amazon is expected to announce the winning city in 2018. While many national analysts have said they believe the Detroit-Windsor bid will be cut early — cities such as Denver, Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta have been pegged as likely winners — those involved in the deal maintain hope.
“We feel very good making the first cut, exceptionally good,” Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber who contributed to the proposal, told Detroit Free Press business columnist John Gallagher. “Amazon is looking for a place they can call home and grow with. We feel very good about talking to Amazon about this. We are a renaissance story par excellence.”
Some of the deficiencies faced by Detroit in its bid are a lack of good public transit (in response Gilbert told Crain's earlier this month that Detroit has the edge of a walkable downtown) and a kaleidoscope of faltering local schools.
Some of the pluses touted by Gilbert include the Regional Transit Authority’s plan for expanded transit options in Southeast Michigan (when this plan was placed on the ballot last year it was defeated), the nearby Coleman A. Young International Airport to host Amazon's corporate jets and lots of talent between Detroit and Windsor.
The involvement of Windsor in the Detroit deal came early. Shortly after the Amazon contest was announced Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens emailed Dan Gilbert to see if he had considered including the city across the river. According to Dilkens, Gilbert wrote back within an hour or two saying that the email was "timely" and that he was just going to call Dilkens.
Dilkens has spoken about a wide variety of possible new transportation methods between the two cities should their bid be selected. One is a gondola and the other a ferry.
Somewhat wacky transportation ideas — for multi-city proposals — have sort of been par for the course in the Amazon mania. This past week, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens turned heads when he suggested a hypothetical "Hyperloop" to connect St. Louis and Kansas City for that state's Amazon bid.
"The tube would use magnets, somehow, to blast passengers at top speed from one side of the state to the other in about 30 minutes time," The Riverfront Times explained, half-joking that the state should offer to build a Stargate while they're at, since a Hyperloop currently doesn't exist and would cost billions to make.
While there has definitely been a massive push for the Windsor-Detroit deal to happen, there are some who remain skeptical of what the long-term reality of a win would in fact mean.
"Strangely absent amid this flurry of desperate hope and speculation has been any real criticism of Amazon's effect on its first home. That's a head-scratcher for many Seattleites, who know Amazon to be a polarizing company often blamed for rampant inequality, skyrocketing housing costs, gridlocked roads, and tough working conditions," the Detroit Metro Times wrote in an article examining some of the repercussions of an Amazon headquarter, such as increased inequality.
For those in favor of the bid, however, there is a real belief that this could be something life-changing for the region.
"At this point in our future, in our relationship, it's what we've been talking about at the conference, our relationship is really important and I think the Amazon bid actually exemplifies that," Premier Wynne said Sunday, noting that she and Snyder spoke before the bid was submitted. "We have worked together and we're going to continue to work together."
Detroit Free Press