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President Fisher involved in Nashville’s Amazon proposal

Belmont President Dr. Robert Fisher crafted part of the proposal to place Amazon’s new headquarters in Nashville, because he envisions a strong relationship between Amazon and Belmont.

“The real reason I’m involved is because of our students and because of the potential that this offers our students,” Fisher said.

The Amazon headquarters proposal — which Nashville submitted in the fall under the leadership of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce — successfully earned Nashville a spot as a top 20 finalist in the search, along with cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

The company plans to announce its final decision before the end of 2018, according to Amazon’s website.

“It is encouraging that Amazon recognizes what we already know to be true about the Nashville region: a vibrant culture, an abundant talent pool and a diverse economy,” said Andrea Albers, spokesperson for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber of Commerce has kept most of the details of Nashville’s proposal secret, including what locations it presented as possible headquarter sites and what economic incentives Nashville will offer Amazon.

But Fisher did confirm one thing about the proposal — it included a position paper he wrote about Middle Tennessee’s universities and the role those schools can play in producing the labor force Amazon needs.

Wherever the new headquarters end up, they will create as many as 50,000 new jobs in that area, and Amazon wants to ensure that potential cities have sufficient labor forces to fill those jobs, according to Amazon’s “Request for Proposal.”

“They’re a smart corporation, very smart, and they are aware that the biggest piece of this decision is finding 50,000 problem solvers and creative people — folks that can help them envision their future,” Fisher said.

Fisher recognizes that what Nashville lacks in population — compared to much larger cities on Amazon’s list like New York and Chicago — it could make up for in the number of college graduates its universities produce.

“If you look at Middle Tennessee, from Clarksville to Cookeville to Murfreesboro, and you take those universities, there’s about 120,000 college students,” Fisher said. “Many of them would be completing professions or degree programs that are relevant to a company like Amazon.”

Not only would Amazon’s headquarters create jobs for Belmont graduates, it would also create internships and the opportunity to learn from one of the most forward-thinking and creative companies in the world, Fisher said.

“I think what Amazon has indicated to all the parties that are competing for their presence is that they want to partner with universities to match up what they have and what they see in the future with the academic programs that we’re providing,” Fisher said.

Fisher declined to give any further details about his paper, because it was written specifically for the Chamber audience, but overall, he believes Nashville could benefit greatly from Amazon’s headquarters.

He’s heard the pushback from some Nashville natives who say the headquarters, and the number of people it would bring with it, could cause problems for Nashville.

As economists such as Jenny Schuetz of the Brooklyn Institute have pointed out, Amazon headquarters could increase Nashville’s cost of living, especially when it comes to housing costs.

However, Fisher disagrees with the idea that growth would harm Nashville. In fact, his only reservation relates to the massive tax incentives some cities offered Amazon.

California, for example, promised Amazon at least $300 million in tax breaks as part of the Los Angeles bid, and New Jersey proposed $7 billion in tax credits as part of the Newark bid,  according to Reuters.

Other cities, like Boston and Toronto, will not offer Amazon any tax breaks, according to Business Insider.

Fisher himself doesn’t know the details of Nashville’s bid — and requests by the Vision to see the proposal were also denied — but he hopes Nashville didn’t offer Amazon too many incentives.

Aside from this, he sees no other reason why Nashville wouldn’t benefit from the growth Amazon’s headquarters could provide.

“Growth is always a bit controversial. It’s new, and it’s change and it puts some additional pressures on us that we didn’t have before,” Fisher said. “You know, I hear that we don’t need any more people around Belmont too. But the truth is, if I’d listened to that 17 years ago, about ⅔ of you wouldn’t be here.”

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