An Economic Force More Powerful than Amazon - By State Rep. Lee James (R-Venango/Butler)
When Amazon announced it was planning to open a second headquarters, cities and regions across the nation began vying to become the home of what colloquially became known as “Amazon HQ2.”

The company expects to invest more than $5 billion in the project, which could create as many as 50,000 jobs.

Amazon asked for bids from any areas interested in hosting this economic development godsend.

Governors, mayors and other politicians in states near and far began courting Amazon in an effort to attract those jobs to their area. Attempts to gain Amazon’s attention ranged from the expected to the absurd.

Many cities and regions offered tax incentive packages aimed at attracting the internet giant. One Tucson economic development firm sent a 21-foot-cactus to Amazon as a way to generate buzz about its pitch for the project. The mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, purchased 1,000 items through Amazon and then donated them to charity.

Pennsylvania was not immune to the Amazon HQ2 craze. Pittsburgh’s Primanti Bros. restaurant offered free sandwiches to each of the 50,000 new employees if Amazon located its second headquarters in the steel city.

I would certainly welcome this project and the jobs it would bring to our area if Amazon decides to build its HQ2 here in Pennsylvania. However, what would you say if I told you our Commonwealth already has an economic booster that delivers twice as many jobs as Amazon is promising?

It’s true. There is an economic sector in Pennsylvania that generated more than $3 billion in expenditures in Pennsylvania in 2015. That’s comparable to the investment Amazon has promised.

This sector supported more than 100,000 jobs – or twice as many as the 50,000 projected at the Amazon site – and helped generate more than $400 million in revenue for the state and local governments. That money helps pay for schools, road repairs and public safety initiatives. It helps pay the salaries of police officers, construction workers and teachers.

What sector of Pennsylvania’s economy provides all these benefits? Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences deliver these boons for the Commonwealth’s economy.

This information may be enough to change your perceptions about these assets in our communities. When you travel past a museum, perhaps you’ll consider it an economic hub in addition to a cultural warehouse. When you hear about an arts festival, perhaps you’ll think about the jobs it will sustain in addition to the joy it will deliver. When you see a painting, maybe you’ll think about economic prosperity.

In short, art is about more than just high-minded principles like beauty and splendor. Art also delivers concrete benefits like jobs and salaries.

It sure would be nice to have Amazon’s second headquarters located right here in Pennsylvania. However, if Amazon decides to follow another path, at least we will still have the arts and cultural assets that help drive economic activity in our Commonwealth.

Representative Lee James
64th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Dan Massing
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