Reveley aims to draw Amazon

Published 2:52 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017

Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV recently utilized his voice and influence in the effort to persuade Amazon to base its second headquarters in the state of Virginia.

W. Taylor Reveley IV

He composed an open letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos that published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and was posted to the newspaper’s website Sept. 26.

“I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of suggestions lately, following your recent announcement that Amazon is seeking a site to build a second headquarters — a place that could employ as many as 50,000 people at average pay exceeding six figures,” Reveley wrote.

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The point of emphasis in Reveley’s letter was to highlight the quality of higher education in Virginia and why it makes the state the best choice for Amazon.

“I want to call your attention to one area where no other state can match Virginia and which ultimately will matter more than any of the other factors you’re considering in helping your company reach its goals of truly transforming the world,” Reveley wrote. “For the workforce you will need to get you there, Virginia has the best assortment of public and private colleges in the country — in fact, on the planet.”

Longwood Chief of Staff and Vice President Justin Pope explained how Reveley came to pen the letter.

“I think like all Virginia college presidents, President Reveley always has economic development on his mind and is always looking for ways to be helpful in advancing that cause and also to remind people of the importance of higher education in that effort,” Pope said. “It’s a really, really big part of the equation, and he thought it was a point that he might have some unique perspective on in terms of making the case to Amazon, but it’s also a good point to have out there more generally thinking about other companies or others who may want to move to Virginia to keep in mind the strength of the state’s private and public colleges and universities.”

Reveley wrote that the greatness of Virginia’s colleges and universities is not solely a function of their deep history, which he noted dates back to 1693 with the founding of the College of William & Mary (W&M).

“Consider the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings,” he wrote. “The commonwealth is home to two of the top six public universities nationally (W&M and the University of Virginia), and the only state besides California with two public universities among the top 35 overall. Among the top nine public regional institutions in the south, four are in Virginia.”

Ranked at No. 9 on the Top Public Schools listing in the Regional Universities South category is Longwood.

While Reveley did take one key opportunity to promote Longwood, he aimed to represent all of Virginia’s colleges and universities in his letter.

Justin Pope

“I think just for the particular context, he wanted to be speaking on behalf of all of higher education in Virginia, which really is remarkable in its variety, in its quality, its historic strength,” Pope said. “Something when you look around the country, it’s easy to lose sight of what we have here, so Longwood is certainly part of that story, and we’re happy to get the name out, but Amazon, obviously, is looking at a bigger picture, and we wanted to make sure they heard that story too.”

Reveley wrote, “In addition to Virginia’s 15 four-year public institutions is a remarkable array of private ones that, altogether, are also arguably the nation’s most accomplished.”

In highlighting the state’s varieties of educational excellence, he added that Virginia can compete with any state offering a cluster of strong research institutions “thanks to the likes of U.Va., Virginia Tech, (Virginia Commonwealth University) and George Mason. But Virginia also offers a constellation of institutions with distinctive cultures and camaraderie that immensely benefit graduates and the whole state.”

“What that variety offers is a range of environments that give the greatest possible number of students a chance to thrive,” he continued. “For many that is at proud historically black institutions like Virginia State, Hampton and Norfolk State, or single-sex private colleges like Sweet Briar and Hampden-Sydney. Others draw strength from VMI’s discipline, or from Longwood’s close-knit sense of community and distinctive focus (and new curriculum) focused on preparing students to be ‘citizen leaders’ in their lives and careers.”

Pope said that the argument for Virginia that Reveley was making was really the same one that he is making all the time, which meant he was already equipped with some of the information presented in the letter/article, but some of it was the product of new research done with Bezos in mind.

“Certainly if you want people to notice, it’s worth doing a little bit of homework about your audience, and that was certainly a part of the article, just to demonstrate — the way any good businessperson would — an understanding of the audience,” Pope said.

“I know you’re a data guy,” Reveley wrote to Bezos, “and the data certainly tell a big part of the story.”

Reveley pointed out that Virginia’s public universities rank among the nation’s leaders in retention and graduation rates, but quickly added that what matters most to a company like Amazon is not just that but “whether those graduates are ready to generate and execute the ideas that really can change the world.”

After highlighting strength of Virginia’s colleges and universities in the liberal arts and sciences, he asked and answered why Amazon would need a steady supply of employees with strong backgrounds in those disciplines.

“Amazon, perhaps more than any other company, is trying to break the mold across a huge swath of human endeavor, from retail to groceries to cloud computing to space travel,” Reveley wrote. “As a successful business leader, you already recognize the kind of employees you need for that kind of effort — not just narrowly trained technicians, but people with imagination, who can think critically, solve problems, work with and understand diverse groups and effectively communicate.”

“These are precisely the skills the liberal arts and sciences are proven to teach exceptionally well, and they feature prominently in the Amazon ‘leadership principles’ you ask every employee to master,” Reveley added.

He also wrote about how Virginia’s strong higher education landscape with broad bipartisan support is a key reason why the state’s political culture remains remarkably civil and plugged the state as arguably the best-run in the nation.

“So Jeff, please consider Virginia,” Reveley wrote in closing. “It will be a wonderful place for your employees to live and work and raise their families. Our colleges and universities will help fill your ranks not just with scientists but with citizens. We’ve been at this work for more than three centuries and are proud of our track record. We can do great things together.”