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Don Cunningham: An Open Letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

By Colin McEvoy on October 26, 2017

This column, written by LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on October 25, 2017. (Click here to read Cunningham’s previous columns.)

Don Cunningham

Don Cunningham

To: Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon

Re: Amazon HQ2

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I’ve often looked at your cool logo and wondered what it is.

Several times a day, I see that upward curved line with a little arrowhead on one end on the Amazon Prime planes as they take off and land at Lehigh Valley International Airport.

My office is close to the runway. Like modern-day Santa Claus sleighs delivering presents to anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card, those planes could easily drop a package down our chimney, if we had one.

Like Amazon, that logo is powerful in its simplicity.

There’s the famous tale of Ben Franklin at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 wondering if the sun carved into the back of George Washington’s chair was a rising or setting sun. As the convention closed with a completed United States Constitution, ole Ben declared it a rising sun.

And, I’ve come to understand that the Amazon logo is a smile, a quirky little, sly smile. If a smile could wink it would be the Amazon logo.

As if more evidence was needed of your ability to take the ordinary – like buying a book or underwear or something one doesn’t even need – and making it something special and unique, along came HQ2. Companies don’t just kick open searches for new headquarters to every city or region of a million people or more to make a pitch. For that matter, most companies don’t build new headquarters employing 50,000 people.

The approach was brilliant, true egalitarianism. You cut out the high-priced brokers, the consultants, analysts, and real estate experts. You opened it up to real people, to communities. You let us tell you why our home should be your next one. States, cities, regions, and the media ate it up. Without spending a single advertising dollar, Amazon generated more good will, good publicity, and genuine desire than any company in history.

Amazon HQ2 is now more desired than George Clooney and Sophia Vergara combined. And, I believe this column officially contains the sixth trillionth word written on it since Sept. 7.

Now, you and your team have 238 proposals from cities and regions in 54 states, provinces, districts and territories in North America. It also was a brilliant move, by the way, to include Canada, although I’m sure you know what the tweets from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be like if you pick our friends to the north.

Within that pile of 238, there’s one I want to bring to your attention. It’s from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. You may or may not have heard of the place, that’s why I’m writing. Its principal cities are Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton. It’s a region in eastern Pennsylvania of 850,000 people, 80 miles from New York City and 60 miles north of Philadelphia, but it’s not a suburb of either place. Like Amazon, the Lehigh Valley is unique, authentic, and innovative.

But don’t take my word for it. Give a call to Amazon’s operations crew. They discovered the Lehigh Valley about eight years ago and have helped to make it the Northeast’s fastest growing inland empire, doubling your space here last year. Amazon now has more than 2 million square feet of fulfillment centers and nearly 2,000 employees in the Lehigh Valley because you can reach 40 percent of the U.S. consumers and 50 percent of Canada’s within a day’s drive. The airport has become a key and growing hub for Amazon Prime

I know you have fulfillment centers all over the United States and this is an office project, a place to house your best and brightest: the people who will build Amazon’s future, and with that part of America’s. That’s why you need to reach into that pile. You already know the story of many of the other places in there.

The Lehigh Valley is where Charles Schwab came at the turn of the 20th century to build the world’s second largest steel company, which made the steel that built the skylines and bridges of America and helped to win two world wars. It’s where Joel Spira came with the novel idea of a dimmer switch to control electric lightning and built Lutron into a world leader in innovative lightning control. It’s where Western Electric and then Bell Labs developed the solid-state transistor that revolutionized electronics before the advent of the microchip.

It’s also where Leonard Pool brought a little oxygen gas company from Detroit called Air Products, which today is a Fortune 250, multi-national company. It’s where every Mack Truck in North America is made and where Olympus chose to locate its headquarters in the Americas. It’s a region of innovation with a legacy of hard work, manufacturing and contribution to the development of America.

And, if that’s not enough it has a place called Yocco’s, where Lee Iacocca’s family still makes the best damn hot dog you’ll ever get. And, as someone who has built a business on efficiency and moving every conceivable product to people’s doorsteps in record time, you’ll greatly appreciate the Greek Diners that exist here about every square mile. There are about 6,000 items on the menu and whatever you order comes out in 10 minutes and your check runs less than $20 bucks.  I consider them the Amazon of the restaurant world.

We don’t have as many baristas as Seattle but we’ll work on that. We do have nice-sized houses in great neighborhoods for less than $250,000, wonderful colleges and health care, cool downtowns in three cities, quick access to the Pocono Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and, even more importantly, little league games, high school football, community festivals and a cost-effective, great quality of life for the Amazon team.

If you come out for a visit the Yocco’s dogs are on me.

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