What Amazon's HQ2 RFP can teach us about partnering with corporations

By Jon Barnhart

This fall's best sweepstakes has all the typical hallmarks: contestants putting forth their best pitch while vying for a huge prize (and stirring up a little drama in the process). We are, of course, talking about Amazon's recent request for cities to bid on the honor of hosting their second North American headquarters (being called HQ2).

If you can't remember the last time a company sought a new home in such a public way, you're not alone. Companies of this size typically makes an announcement after they've selected their new location, not before. But Amazon's taking a different approach: they've invited cities and states across North America to bid to be the location of choice. Amazon plans to invest more than $5 billion in construction on their new campus and create up to 50,000 high-paying jobs (average compensation expected to exceed $100 thousand/year). But they have a few stipulations:

  • Population size: Amazon is likely to prioritize cities with more than one million people.
  • Space: Amazon is prioritizing locations with existing buildings. Does your city have 8 million square feet to spare?
  • Workforce: Amazon asks that all bids should include a detailed list of higher education offerings as well as information on computer-science programs in K-12 education systems.
  • Transit: Amazon is, at its core, a logistics company and is therefore seeking a home base with a robust transit system, including easy commutes for their employees and quick access to an international airport.
  • Incentives, capital, and culture: Naturally, Amazon is hoping suitors will find tax and capital incentives to sweeten the deal. But they're also looking for a place their employees are excited to work and live.

Want to know more about what Amazon's looking for? Read the full RFP

As you consider the list of cities with at least one million people, a not-surprising trend emerges: some of the biggest research universities on the continent are also located in these cities. And Amazon knows this. They are looking for institutions eager to help them train high-skilled employees and develop research productive partnerships.

Whether you're one of the speculated top contenders for HQ2 or just looking to better promote your institution to potential industry partners in your backyard, we have four tips to guide your efforts:

1. Know where the company wants to go: Amazon has made its parameters for a new home clear, but what about their interests once they move in? What kind of graduates will they be seeking? What kind of new technologies and ideas will they want to leverage? Go beyond the press releases and seek out the potential latent needs of a potential partner to bolster your institution’s pitch. You may be surprised what current research on-campus is critical to the company’s future growth plans.

Learn how Ohio State University conducts background research and promotes their work to corporate partners

2. Know your institution's distinct strengths: Companies like Amazon aren't looking to partner with schools that are merely good in a number of research areas, they want to partner with institutions that are among the best in a number of compelling research areas. For example, Amazon’s interests go well beyond simply delivering goods. They have made investments in healthcare tech and machine learning, much in the same way other companies of their size are leveraging their talent and capital to expand into new markets and tackle large business problems.

See how a few schools created Grand Challenge initiatives to highlight their strengths and take on societal problems

3. Count your capital assets: The RFP from Amazon details some very specific capital requirements regarding what they will need to support a company of their size. Not all companies have this sort of space (and money), so if yours does, this could help your institution to stand out.

Here's how four universities created flexible spaces to support university-industry partnerships

4. Check your syllabi: While R&D is an important component for many companies, the ability to attract top talent is the real decision-driver for companies. While R&D is an important component of a university-industry partnership, the ability to attract top talent is the real decision-driver for companies. Those institutions with best-in-class training programs and flexible delivery models are more likely to secure partnerships with industries seeking to further develop their talent.

See how several progressive community colleges expand their corporate training programs

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