Protests could derail St. Louis' bid for second Amazon hub

Protests in St. Louis over the acquittal of a white former policeman who killed a black man could impede the city's bid to attract's second headquarters, academics and business executives said.

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Marked by scuffles, teargas and property damage, the protests have been unfolding as the city, which has a history of social unrest, is vying for the lucrative Amazon deal.

"There is no good timing for something like this and it will have an impact," said Didi Caldwell, founding principal with Global Location Strategies in South Carolina, which helps companies choose locations for new businesses and expansion.

Amazon, the world's biggest online retailer, said this month that it planned to build a $5 billion second headquarters that could bring 50,000 new jobs to the winning city.

An Amazon spokesman declined to discuss the site search.

In its call for proposals from cities, Amazon said a "compatible cultural and community environment" that included diversity, a high quality of life and stable business climate were key. The company intends to make a decision in 2018.

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William Collins, a Vanderbilt University economic historian who has studied the aftermath of the 1960s race riots in the United States, said the impact on a city's ability to draw new employers depended on how companies view such incidents.

“Does it suggest a deeply rooted problem that's likely to make living, working, and investing in a particular location less attractive or less profitable than alternatives? If so, it can have lasting implications,” Collins said.

A September 16 ruling found former St. Louis policeman Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.


In August, after clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, over plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, regional economic development officials wrote to site selection companies saying the violence did not define the city.

St. Louis Economic Development Partnership officials said they were aware of racial tensions highlighted by the protests but argued that the problem was not unique to St. Louis.

"The protests, although the timing of them was not the best for St. Louis, are really indicative of a national issue that needs to be looked at," the partnership's Chief Executive Sheila Sweeney said on Thursday.

The day before, protesters at a high-end shopping mall blocked traffic and chanted, "No justice, no profits."

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