Ask FBI, Toyota, Mr. Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos seems like a reasonably intelligent, educated fellow, so it’s unlikely he would react to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s letter by asking if the senator has a site near Richmond in mind.

On the other hand, one wonders whether Bezos knows enough about West Virginia to understand how much sense Manchin makes in his missive.

Manchin, D-W.Va., revealed last week that he has written to Bezos, inviting the new (and old) media giant to consider locating its “second headquarters” in the Mountain State. The company is looking for an eastern location to complement its existing main office in Seattle, Washington.

For a time, Amazon was considering two new eastern locations, one near Washington, D.C. and the other in New York City. The Big Apple plan called for an installation with 25,000 workers.

But, despite being offered $3 billion in incentives, Amazon backed away from NYC because of outrage expressed in the community.

One thing, Mr. Bezos: If you can overlook the fact that we don’t have $3 billion to give you, we’d love to have you in West Virginia.

Manchin’s letter made his motive clear, telling Bezos, “my little state could benefit from the type of investment Amazon’s second headquarters could bring …”

But, he added, “I think Wild and Wonderful West Virginia would contribute more than you could ever believe to your company and your legacy.”

Well, there’s the rub, isn’t it? How do we convince an urban, West Coast type like Bezos that wild really is wonderful?

Here’s an idea: Some years ago, the FBI announced it would open a major new facility just outside Clarksburg. Employees displaced from jobs in and near Washington, D.C., would be offered transfers to Clarksburg. Many of them were appalled at the idea of moving out of the big city and to a place that, frankly, many considered the wilderness.

Three or four years ago, I ran into a woman who works for the FBI in Clarksburg. She’d transferred there from Washington. So, I asked, what do you think?

If you’d like to know what she looks like, check the dictionary entry for “gushed.” The FBI woman told me that, like some of her peers, she hated the idea of moving here.

Now, she said, she can’t conceive of living anywhere else. She rattled off a list of things she likes about West Virginia. Close to the top was the people here.

Would she ever move back to her hometown? Not on your life, she told me.

Here’s another idea: Have Bezos talk to Toyota Motors executives. Nearly a quarter-century ago, in part because of efforts by then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Toyota opened a plant in Putnam County.

Somehow, the Toyota execs got past the stereotypes about West Virginians. Since then, they have expanded the plant here several times. They’ve found employees to be hard-working, able to learn new skills quickly, and focused on quality.

So, we have the kind of people Amazon needs. And we have something else that ought to appeal to Bezos.

If he’s smart, he’ll ask Manchin to show him why we call our state what we do.

You know, “almost heaven.” If you come, Mr. Bezos, you will build it here.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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