Orange County Has What Amazon Wants

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Source article: Orange County Register, by Jim Doti, Lucy Dunn and Brian Calle

When Amazon announced its plans for a second North American headquarters, cities throughout the country began to salivate over the prospect of becoming its home — and they should. An investment of $5 billion locally, adding 50,000 new jobs with average salaries in the six-figure range would be transformational for any community.

It’s no wonder that so many luminaries in Orange County are wildly optimistic about the prospect of Amazon HQ2 moving here, and are beginning to mobilize to submit a bid to lure the massive online retailer to our community.

Landing the headquarters of a cutting-edge technology behemoth disrupting the global economy is exactly what Orange County needs as the next step of our community’s social, cultural and economic evolution.

In many ways, Orange County is the perfect location for Amazon. Yet, a few armchair skeptics believe that the O.C. doesn’t measure up to this challenge. Even the New York Times, in a recent report, listed other parts of Southern California as potential locations, but failed to even mention O.C.

For those uninitiated and unfamiliar with our locale, it’s typical to lump us in as part of 

Los Angeles. Too often, O.C. is inaccurately labeled as a bedroom community, or suburb, of Los Angeles, yet more workers commute from Los Angeles to Orange County than the other way around.

That’s partially because O.C.’s job market is far better. Orange County’s unemployment rate is lower than Los Angeles County’s — and has been for some time, according to data tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

No doubt L.A.’s population, media market and mythology get it the lion’s share of attention, but Orange County, and its 3 million- plus residents, is no side dish.

If Orange County were its own country, it would rank as the 45th-largest economy in the world, with a gross county product (the localized equivalent of gross domestic product) upwards of $200 billion.

And, if we were our own state, we’d be around the 29th most populous in the nation.

In terms of business climate, hosting Amazon’s second HQ makes a lot of sense, but it is not just economics that makes this community enticing, it’s also the workforce.

Orange County is in the middle of one of the nation’s hubs for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates. Our geography makes us a hub for recruiting from anywhere in Southern California — from L.A. to O.C. to San Diego to the Inland Empire.

That hub produces more than 30,000 STEM bachelor’s and graduate degrees annually. It is virtually tied with the Tri-State New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area for the No. 1 spot in the nation. Boston, with all of its great universities, is a distant third, at 17,000 graduates per year, and Silicon Valley is fifth, with 13,000 graduates.

As for its workforce, the Southern California tech hub also ranks first in the nation with its 528,000 professional and technical jobs. Orange County is at its nexus.

In comparison, the Silicon Valley counties have 404,000 similar jobs. Even as a stand-alone, Orange County’s 125,000 professional- technology jobs ranks higher than other competitive areas like Seattle;Phoenix; Austin, Texas; Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina; and Salt Lake City. Orange County also employs more than five times the national average of workers in the medical equipment and supply manufacturing category. In audio and video equipment, it’s more than 4.4 times the national average; in electronic instrument manufacturing, it’s 3.5 times; and in semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing, it’s 3.1 times.

People don’t just look to relocate to the county for jobs, though. Many families and companies come here because our schools are so good. The depth and breadth of the county’s traditional public schools, public charter schools and private K-12 educational offerings are exceptional.

Read the full article.

Jim Doti is president emeritus and the Donald Bren distinguished chair of Business and Economics at Chapman University.

Lucy Dunn is president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group and a professor at Chapman University’s School of Communication.

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