What we and others knew but Jeff Bezos didn’t

The big story today is how Amazon.com has withdrawn its offer to locate in Queens, New York City and provide 25,000 of jobs, touted as largely benefiting Latinos and African Americans.

Bezos, the estimable founder of Amazon and more recently owner of the venerable  and admirable Washington Post is steeped in the Internet culture, but has not had to build a housing development or even a shopping mall in a community.   If so, he would have earned a lesson that I did when some forty years ago I appeared before the supervisors of East Manchester Township in York County, Pennsylvania.

Almost fifty years ago, Ed Kost showed the three wide eyed farmers plan after pain of the two thousand dwelling units our company would be bringing to the township, I suspect increasing its population by perhaps a third.  They were polite but firm in rejecting our proposed master plan.

Instead they insisted on our building roads the width of major arteries to serve the development of less than a hundred single family residents.

Years later the son of the chair of the Supervisors followed his father onto the board.  He mentioned to me, in front of his father, “What damn fool required such wide roads?”   His father and I supressed our chuckles and didn’t respond.

The lesson we learned:  When you tell people that you are going to change their composition and nature of their community, don’t expect them to jump for joy.  And that is what happened to Amazon in Brooklyn.

After that, we would informally inquirer of the local government’s leadership how they felt about what we were proposing.  If we encountered stiff opposition, we thanked them for their candor, said we hoped to do business with them in the future for a project more acceptable to them, and moved on.