What the Cape & Islands can learn from Boston’s pitch to Amazon

Most people outside of New England may not realize that from the mid seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century sleepy Massachusetts fishing villages became epicenters of global finance.  Whaling was the economic driver, as the deep water ports of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown led the surge of offshore whaling, only to be eclipsed by the fleets from Nantucket and New Bedford later in the century. As this industry grew, fortunes were made and lost and stories of mythical whales were born and shared, decades before Herman Melville ever wrote one word of his masterpiece, Moby Dick.  The region flourished.

Jump forward more than two hundred years: We are now experiencing the excitement and spectacle surrounding the competition for Amazon’s 2nd Headquarters.  As 238 communities across the country, including Boston, submitted proposals for consideration to be the second American Headquarters location for the online retailing giant, a who’s who of heavy hitters came out to support the cause, even Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, offered this intriguing quote that highlighted why Boston should be a contender:

“If I were starting now I would do things very differently. I didn’t know anything. In Silicon Valley, you get this feeling that you have to be out here. But it’s not the only place to be. If I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston. [Silicon Valley] is a little short-term focused and that bothers me.”

We at OpenCape recently reviewed Boston’s comprehensive submission to Amazon as a potential guide to fostering growth in the Cape & Islands economy. We feel it offers valuable insights into how to attract and retain business and how best to encourage, nurture and support entrepreneurship.  Here is what we found:

Quality of Life:

It is remarkable that Quality of Life is the very first selling point that Boston used.  I imagined Boston leading with dizzying statistics about access to a technical workforce or the 125+ colleges and universities or the Innovation Economy.  It is refreshing to see this and it is great news for the Cape & Islands as Quality of Life doesn’t get much better than here!

Talent:

While we don’t have the 125+ colleges and universities of our Commonwealth’s Capitol we do have several four year Universities and Community Colleges and two technical High Schools in our region, including a newly approved state-of the-art Lower Cape Tech renovation.  We have a myriad of research facilities that are tied to major universities and the world renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute right here on Cape Cod.  Our local schools are committed to STEM education and the newer STEAM designation that includes Arts, for which Cape Cod has long been justifiably famous.  We also have something else, something unique.   We have an older population on the Cape & Islands that possesses a wealth of experience and talents. Our community is replete with retired business executives, educators, medical professionals, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and artists from around the world.  We have a vast corps of potential mentors and Board members with a lifetime of knowledge to share.

Innovation Ecosystem:

Perhaps it is just the innovation I see happening all across the Cape & Islands, that makes me think we have this Amazon HQ thing covered. Serious work, research and investment is taking place here already.  The “Blue Economy” is based on the Cape, inspired and supported by our 559.6 miles of coastline.  We see advanced and experimental technologies from WHOI and the Marine Biological Laboratories and associated spin-offs like Hydroid.

Companies and organizations like Savant, Coastal Studies Center, IFAW, Cape Air, NOAA, The Woods Hole Research Center, Zudy and many more are growing and expanding here.  Innovation is in the air ~ and the water and that makes Cape Cod an amazing place for business to take off.

Transportation:

Getting around the Cape and Islands is no longer just a matter of driving down Route 6. There is significant transportation infrastructure in place. CCRTA, The Steamship Authority, Hyline, the Cape Flyer, Plymouth & Brockton and Peter Pan Bus Lines along with Cape Air, Rectrix Aviation and national carriers like Jet Blue do a fantastic job of getting people where they need to go by road, sea, rail and air. We have easy access to Boston and Providence, as well as NYC.  I’m thinking that maybe, now that GE is headquartered in Boston, we will see some more fast ferries like the one from P’town to Boston.  The Rail Trail is currently expanding through Yarmouth, with the vision of connecting bike trails from Woods Hole to Wellfleet in the minds of all cycling enthusiasts on Cape Cod.

The single question I get asked most often.

At OpenCape we spend a significant amount of time meeting with businesses large and small, town managers, elected and appointed officials, school administrators and individuals who are genuinely invested in the Cape & Islands and Southeastern, MA.   During any given week we are speaking and presenting to Select Boards, Community Groups, prospective business clients and a variety of Cape and Islands organizations working to improve our region.   The question I am asked most often is “If we build and invest in a robust fiber Infrastructure will companies relocate to the Cape & Islands?  They want to know if jobs can be created here and if their children will be able to live and work here.   As a father of five, I have asked the same questions and the answer is Yes!   The answer to that is Yes!    And here is why I whole heartedly believe that.

  • Technology today allows employees and companies to enjoy freedom in their relationship to one another.  In my opinion, one of the biggest opportunities for the Cape & Islands is to offer the infrastructure - like fiber based Gig+ internet - that make remote working a real possibility. We can strive to attract workers who desire flexibility in where they reside, but still want to be able to offer their talents and skills to companies and industries located elsewhere. I know from personal experience that this is an amazing aspect to Cape Cod living. I settled my family in East Sandwich even as I served as a Vice President for a Silicon Valley Internet company, our existing Internet and cell infrastructure made this a real challenge, but today with access to a 100% Fiber Network that becomes a real opportunity for thousands of workers.
  • Cape Cod has the public support and regional infrastructure in place to embrace entrepreneurship.  According to one survey, 64% of the businesses on the Cape & Islands have only between one and four employees. Our peninsula is filled with small businesses and forward thinking entrepreneurs. People come to Cape Cod ~ or already live here ~ with dreams of opening their own cafes, gift shops or galleries. We have website builders, coders, holistic healers, cabinet makers, personal trainers, chefs , lawyers and artists. We have those that have established businesses off Cape in New York, Washington or LA and just want to make the Cape their home.  Residents and visitors will actively support our local businesses, whether they are choosing world class medical specialists at Cape Cod Hospital or buying handmade candles at an artisan’s fair. Cape Cod and the Islands are a place where ideas flourish, neighbors help each other out and travelers wish they can stay forever.
  • I believe that companies will come here because of our expertise about, experience of and proximity to water. They will take advantage of the opportunity to tie into research and emerging technologies related to the ocean, and find ways to capitalize on our unique relationship to the sea.  The Blue Economy Project spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce is the perfect vehicle to differentiate the Cape and Islands and attract prospective investors and businesses.   Of course, once they come here they will need the physical infrastructure to allow them to develop and grow.
  • Teamwork & Leadership: The Smarter Cape Partnership, a conglomeration of various organizations who are working in tandem to effect substantive change in the region, dedicates significant time to discussing and raising issues surrounding the specifics of housing, economic development, educational opportunities etc.. We enjoy support and commitment from the towns and are encouraged by the enthusiasm and optimism from business leaders. Our elected officials are engaged and informed on the issues and we sense the momentum for making a difference. Some of the organizations that are working together to realize a vision of a dynamic Cape Cod are:

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce

Cape Cod Economic Development Council

Cape Cod Technology Council

Cape Cod Young Professionals (CCYP)

The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (HBRACC

OpenCape Corporation

Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors & MLS

The Amazon Effect  

What I believe we learned from Boston’s Amazon proposal is that the Cape & Islands are already doing amazing things to grow our economy.  We have smart, experienced people, who care about their communities and want to invest in them. Listen, I don’t really think Jeff Bezos is going to come for a site visit to the Falmouth Technology Park or the Hyannis Economic Development Zone anytime soon.  But what I do see ~ and I really hope other Cape Cod positive folks can share my vision on this ~ is a colossal opportunity to attract new businesses, retain companies who are already here, empower young residents to succeed, attract highly skilled workers who value quality of life and create a viable plan for creating jobs for future generations. If we continue to share ideas and expand our efforts to work collaboratively I think there is a great deal we can achieve.