Tim Bean

*Readers in Indy, don’t get angry with me. I know you’re vying hard for that Amazon bid, along with 19 others cities, but I track business news each and every day and I know, economically, Indy is doing just fine.

When I first heard of Amazon’s search for the second headquarters, the news coverage and clamoring array of cities hoping for unprecedented economic boost reminded me of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (the 1971 film). Why did Willy Wonka want the children to visit his chocolate factory? It had nothing to do with money, or getting larger. Wonka needed an heir.  Money didn’t motivate his decision. So what does Bezos want?

If it’s money…I’m sorry, but as of January, 2018, he’s the richest person on Earth. Ever. If he wants to be richer, that’s a separate string of problems.  But I don’t think it’s money. Like most of today’s young ultra-entrepenuaers, Bezos seems forward thinking, and placing an Amazon headquarters in ANY city is an almost instant $5 billion investment, not to mention secondary economic benefits. 

And not a single city in the entire United States deserves that boost more than Gary, Indiana. Since the 1970s, the city has become unjustly synonymous with crime, drug abuse and political corruption. Its population is less than half what it had been and almost a third of the buildings in the city are abandoned.  Over half of its students attend charter schools rather than public, gouging its education funds.  For God’s sake, History Channel’s show Life After People was filmed there!

I don’t know if it’s because I am from Lake County, because I have had many students from Gary, or because I have family roots in area, but I know two things: Gary has NOT earned its sensationalist reputation, and Gary needs a damn chance. It doesn’t need sympathy or charity. Just a chance. 

But not like the last few half-hearted attempts to revitalize the area. The Genesis Convention Center and Holiday Inn, the Railcats U.S. Steel Yard Stadium and certainly not more casinos. The first two had little lasting effect, the last did their best to bleed an already-wounded town dry (and still are).

If Bezos wanted to demonstrate Amazon’s commitment to social responsibility being on par with economic growth, Gary is the city.  If Amazon wanted to show how its interests lay far from a consumerist monopoly, Gary is the city. If Bezos wanted to show his revolutionary style of business extends beyond two-pizza meetings, Gary is the city. 

But Gary was passed up. Despite inexpensive land costs, a connection to several major US highways, an airport, an international waterway, plenty of space, updated infrastructure, and its wealth of willing workers, Amazon decided Gary wasn’t right. One critique suggested it was the city’s history of corruption that did it.  If Gary got that bid, you would see any political corruption weeded out in weeks, trust me. It’s a tough city.

In fact, take any city in Indiana; if it had gone through what Gary’s gone through since the turn of the century, it would have rolled over and died. Not Gary. It keeps on fighting and surviving, with or without the Amazon bid. At some point, a savvy company will notice what Amazon failed to in Gary; a city with billions in untapped potential.

What to Know More? 

Read this fine article in the online architecture digest Curbed entitled “Gary, Indiana: A Midwestern steel town making a slow comeback.

Casinos ruin cities. That’s not an opinion; that’s a 100%, carved-in-diamond fact. Read the Atlantic Monthly’s “A Good Way to Wreck a Local Economy: Build Casinos.” Or the National Gambling Impact Study Commission’s Seminal Report.