Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Marshals Wilkes University Students To Assist With Regional Amazon HQ2 pitch
Northeastern Pennsylvania has jokingly been deemed the worst place to be in the event of a zombie outbreak due to its location.
That same region -- with its close proximity to major highways and cities – also makes it a prime candidate for online retail giant Amazon to build a proposed second headquarters. Regional economic development leaders played off the zombie apocalypse theme as an attention-getting device in their pitch to bring Amazon HQ2 to the region, even including a tongue-in-cheek survival guide in the proposal.
As part of a team of regional business partners, the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University spearheaded the development of the proposal. The Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship is known for its rich history of teaching the principles of free enterprise and entrepreneurship to undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students. The key ingredients for composing a unique proposal were the creative minds of Wilkes University students convened by the center.
The competition to woo Amazon to locate its new headquarters in northeastern Pennsylvania began on September 7, 2017, when the company announced it wanted to build a second headquarters. Dubbed Amazon HQ2, the second headquarters would be located somewhere other than the company’s Seattle home base. Amazon is expected to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow its second headquarters to be equivalent to its current one. The new campus is estimated to create as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.
The tech giant took a national approach to find a location with “strong local and regional talent” and a “business-friendly environment.” Amazon sought proposals from local, state and provincial government leaders based on specific criteria outlined in the request for proposals. Regions were required to have a minimum population density and to deliver both a physical and digital copy of their proposal. To view Amazon’s detailed criteria, please click here.
With potential for huge economic growth, it was decided at a Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce meeting that northeastern Pennsylvania would develop a proposal to pitch to Amazon. The regional approach is one endorsed by the Allan P. Kirby Center.
“It made more sense for our region to start acting as a region. We have been pushing for years that we are better as a region, and not individual counties,” said Rodney Ridley, executive director and distinguished professor at the center.
At a meeting, board members discussed the best assets of northeastern Pennsylvania. Among the greatest assets are the 14 institutions of higher education within the region.
Wilkes University President Patrick F. Leahy agreed.
“With a mission to advocate, encourage and foster entrepreneurial activity, there is no better entity to aid in our economic development efforts than the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University,” said Leahy. “Having our students prepare the region’s response highlights Northeast Pennsylvania’s greatest asset: access to a highly talented, highly motivated workforce educated right here in the Wyoming Valley.”
Ridley also was contacted by Larry Newman, executive director of Diamond City Partnership, and John Augustine III, president and chief executive officer of Penn’s Northeast, who requested the involvement of the Kirby Scholars, who are Wilkes students who work with businesses in the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.
“The Kirby Center has made a new reputation for involving select, highly capable students and putting them in one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime, experiential learning opportunities. It is a hallmark of what we do at the center, and this Amazon pitch fit that mold correctly,” Ridley said.
In addition to the Kirby Scholars, it made sense to involve the deans of the academic schools and colleges at Wilkes with programs most related to the Amazon project. Student representatives and faculty from the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership, the College of Science and Engineering and College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences were also included in the pitch development.
“It was a great collaborative effort to engage students who are not normally involved in the economic development process to attract quality jobs to a region. We hope to utilize students and the resources that a top quality university, like Wilkes, provides for projects like these in the future,” Augustine said.
Gerald A. Ephault, executive-in-residence for the Allan P. Kirby Center and an adjunct professor in the Sidhu School, served as an intermediary between Augustine and the Wilkes group. Approximately 20 people, including 12 students, attended the initial Amazon HQ2 meeting at the Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Students, faculty and staff were tasked with developing a pitch with a limited budget and seven-day timeline that ultimately would stand out from the other competitive cities.
The consensus was that the information to be delivered to Amazon in some type of unique box. The group broke up into three teams of six or seven people. Each team had a few days to create their own pitch, resulting in a brainstorming marathon.
“I am a firm believer that pressure can make diamonds,” said Tyler Derby, a senior business major. “Our original idea was a box with screen printing that would showcase all of the important people of Wilkes-Barre, such as those who have been prosperous in various businesses in the area. The goal was to demonstrate that you can grow your business here as well.”
Many interesting ideas were suggested by the teams. One pitch included using an iPad that would play a holographic film about northeastern Pennsylvania with stars from the comedy show The Office. Another team suggested using a drone to deliver the proposal to Amazon. Time constraints made it difficult to produce those ideas.
At the next meeting, each team had a representative present its pitch to the group. It was collectively decided which elements from the three pitches would be included in the final proposal.
“I enjoyed that we were given the opportunity to be creative and come up with ideas that could affect our region in a huge way. Knowing that I was a trusted member of a team who developed an idea that would ultimately reach Amazon headquarters was very exciting,” said Emily Sutton, a senior marketing major and business development intern at the Allan P. Kirby Center.
The proposal had to demonstrate why northeastern Pennsylvania would be an ideal location for Amazon HQ2. The goal was to provide this information to Amazon in an innovative way to get the region noticed.
“I think the beauty of it was that the final product was a compilation of all three teams,” Ridley said.
The result? A stainless steel box with the Amazon logo etched in and binders filled with key information about what separates the northeastern Pennsylvania region from the rest. . The Zombie apocalypse survival guide was added for a whimsical touch. Ephault tapped Keystone Automation to fabricate the box and coordinated its production with Augustine.
“This was a unique and great opportunity for NEPA because of the regional nature of our response. For the first time ever, we were able to pull the collective assets of our five counties to showcase the best that we have to offer any company looking to make the northeastern United States their home,” Augustine said.