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Washington Business Journal: Viewpoint: HQ2 Could Bring Needed Donations for Academics

Thursday, January 03, 2019

 
Irma Becerra said she hopes corporate philanthropy will increase with HQ2's arrival.

The popular press has chronicled many concerns about the arrival of Amazon in Arlington, Virginia, with traffic and housing prices chief among them. Despite the crowding it may bring, I see the arrival of Amazon as a great opportunity for D.C. to become an ecosystem for innovation and higher learning.

First, Amazon’s arrival will contribute to the resilience of the D.C.-area job market. As opposed to remaining victim to the ebb and flow of government contracting, Amazon’s arrival will expand the portfolio of career opportunities in the area.

According to the Washington Business Journal, the D.C. area has lost tech jobs from 2012-2017, while Seattle and New York have continued to grow by nearly 20 percent. Similarly, in the area of growth in tech degree completions from 2011-2016, D.C. lags behind Seattle and New York, coming in at 44.6 percent compared to Seattle’s 60.2 and New York’s 48.6 percent.

The collection of D.C.-area schools such as Marymount, George Mason, Virginia Tech, Georgetown and George Washington University are poised to offer Amazon staff and prospective employees degrees that meet the company’s needs.

A corporate ecosystem comprises a community of interacting organizations and their physical environment. Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) arrival means both direct and indirect job openings, from direct IT hires to the slew of companies that support Amazon’s business including, for example, providers of boxes with the Amazon smile on them. It means jobs for students graduating from universities in the area.

And with corporate philanthropy, it could mean major investments in schools.

Boston is a great example of an ecosystem of schools surrounding their “Innovation District.” The Kendall Square neighborhood has been dubbed “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” Boston’s roster of leading technology companies, academic institutions, entrepreneurs, researchers, and incubators make it a great place to start a company.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made a large investment in infrastructure through the Kendall Square Initiative, which includes corporate partners such as The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA). Kendall Square is the heart of an entrepreneurship ecosystem which also includes Boston University, Tufts, Boston College, Harvard and Bentley among others.

Harvard has unveiled plans for major commercial development for its Enterprise Research Campus in nearby Allston, expanding Boston’s innovation footprint even further.

Not only will Amazon bring thousands of high-paying jobs to the region, but the company’s arrival marks the beginning of a permeation of funds and infrastructure into the area. Private philanthropy, as opposed to corporate, has defined the D.C. region. The influx of Amazon funding could be a boon for local universities, providing the opportunity for backing to better prepare students for the Amazon workforce with new and expanded programs, like Marymount’s programs focusing on cybersecurity, esports and gaming.

Examples of large companies changing the landscape of cities and their educational opportunities are not hard to find. In 1979, Robert W. Woodruff, the late leader of The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO), and his brother, George Woodruff, gifted Emory University the then-record sum of $105 million. This was the first nine-figure gift to an institution of higher education and it allowed Emory to grow its faculty and programs in dramatic ways. The philanthropy of Coca-Cola executives over the years helped Emory become one of the leading universities in the nation.

An influx of corporate philanthropy from Amazon would undoubtedly help local universities grow and better produce brainpower for the growing job market.

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