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WeWork is pitching itself to politicians as not part of the problem

Can WeWork do what Airbnb and Uber couldn’t? It should be easier.

WeWork CEO Adam Neumann onstage Cindy Ord/Getty Images for WeWork

WeWork has differed from its peers in the startup economy like Uber and Airbnb by escaping from the political and regulatory firefights that defined the early days of those insurgent companies.

But now the $20 billion office company is sharpening its political image as a friendly booster of cities’ local economies, part of an extended, months-long pitch that starts Friday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington. That’s where Adam Neumann, the company’s Israeli-American CEO, is set to argue that WeWork is a company to be courted, not feared.

“WeWork isn’t a corporation that comes to a city for the economic incentives only to close its doors a few years later,” the company said in a blog post, shared early with Recode, that lays out their new messaging. “We are your neighbor. We are a partner and we are a friend.”

WeWork leases, divides up and then rents out office space to entrepreneurs. While the company has encountered some pushback from local housing and real estate interests, it has not confronted the same hostility that Uber did from the taxi industry or Airbnb did from hoteliers.

That’s not all due to WeWork’s tact. The challenge is easier for WeWork than it was for those other high-flying startups. Unlike Uber, WeWork doesn’t have displaced employees to fight off like taxi drivers. And unlike Airbnb, WeWork isn’t trying to dethrone a chain of entrenched corporations like Marriott or Hilton.

WeWork’s argument is, essentially, that what’s good for a local startup is good for the local economy. WeWork says that startups save money in a shared space as opposed to paying their own rents, and that there is a correlation between startup success and operating out of a WeWork.

And that trickles down to create what WeWork claims is a “2x economic multiplier” — meaning that every additional person using a WeWork means one additional new net job.

“For every city, once a successful homegrown business takes off, that leads to more jobs and a trend of sustained economic growth,” writes the company. “The success of the individual, the entrepreneur, and the small business creates an economic ripple effect.”

Of course, other startups have made similar arguments — and that hasn’t quelled the backlashes to their consumer-friendly innovations. Companies that grow inevitably collect enemies. But now Neumann and WeWork are beginning to more explicitly make their argument.

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