Amazon has gotten too big for Seattle. Now it’s looking to build a second headquarters somewhere in North America, and it’s taking suggestions.
This morning, Amazon started soliciting offers from metropolitan areas to host a new campus for up to 50,000 employees. This “HQ2” would become a co-equal headquarters to Amazon’s giant Seattle setup, the company says. The headquarters must be no more than 30 miles from a major population center and no more than 45 minutes from an international airport.
The prize here will be big, with tens of thousands of jobs and over $5 billion in investment. Expect cities and states to start falling all over each other with tax incentives and land deals. Bids are due by Oct. 19, and Amazon will make its decision next year.
Amazon has demands. Here’s what it wants:
- Metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people
- A stable and business-friendly environment
- Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
- Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options
I think Amazon probably wants to get away from the West Coast, which would count out options like San Diego, Boise, Phoenix, and Denver. The expensive, crowded main metro areas of the Northeast Corridor also seem to me to be unlikely winners, because Amazon can get much more for its money elsewhere.
These are my top six suggestions, in order, of where Amazon might land in the US:
1. Kansas City
Possibly the nation’s most underrated tech hub, Kansas City was one of the first Google Fiber markets and is home to Sprint. The city has terrific internet connectivity, it has been nurturing tech startups in the Crossroads neighborhood, land is affordable, the airport has nonstop flights to all the right places, and the local government has a very pro-tech stance. Kansas City’s primary downside is its lack of international flights. “Kansas City International Airport” holds its title because of flights to Toronto and Cancun, which isn’t the globe-spanning range Amazon wants.
2. Dallas-Fort Worth
The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the fourth-largest metro area in the US, with more than 6 million people. It has its own tech titan in Samsung, and it’s just down the road from Austin, a vibrant tech hub. It’s centrally located and has one of the nation’s major airports.
The Fort Worth side of the Metroplex is going through some major changes right now, with the city redeveloping downtown with a riverwalk, lakes, canals, and apartment buildings—turning the former city of stockyards into a real urban center. There’s a major new entertainment district planned for 2024, and frequent commuter rail connects the city to central Dallas.
Dallas is a bit more expensive, and a bit further along in terms of development. It’s positively buzzing as an urban hub, with world-class dining and nightlife, a growing public transit system, and a diverse population. That would be an easy move for Amazon.
Minneapolis has long been a center for health tech, with the Mayo Clinic nearby. It’s also the home of two of Amazon’s major competitors, Target and Best Buy. Within the past year, according to the Star-Tribune, it’s become a startup center as well, with startup accelerators settling in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis has a vibrant downtown and a real international airport with flights to Europe and Asia.
The city has a few down sides. Winter weather is famously awful. Amazon may not want to be too close to its major competitors. And Minnesota’s employment market is so strong that Amazon would probably have to import employees from the rest of the US, rather than tapping into an existing local worker pool.
Pittsburgh is on the verge of being cool again. The city has two powerhouse universities, one of which—Carnegie Mellon—specializes in technology, with great potential synergies for Amazon. There’s a vibrant nightlife (thanks to those universities), housing is affordable, and Amazon could say that it’s revitalizing the Rust Belt. Pittsburgh is also a drivable distance from Amazon’s Cincinnati cargo hub.
Pittsburgh’s down side is that it isn’t a transit hub. Its airport has shrunk from its glory days, and there isn’t even a nonstop flight to Seattle. Its “international” flights are to Toronto, Cancun, Frankfurt, and Reykjavik. Amazon may want better connectivity.
Mobile Nations’ Derek Kessler suggests Cinci because Amazon already has a major investment there: a $1.5 billion dollar cargo hub. Cinci is certainly affordable, with a historic downtown that’s been in the midst of redevelopment.
Cincinnati’s greatest weakness is that it’s terminally uncool. The city lacks high-profile universities or a nationally known arts, entertainment, or technology scene. Its reputation for being a quiet, relaxing place to raise a family is a minus when competing with places like San Francisco for young techies. The city also has awful public transportation, and Amazon likes public transit.
Probably the best East Coast pick, Charlotte is a finance and financial-technology center with affordable land, an educated workforce, and a great airport.
Charlotte’s down side is that, like Cincinnati, it really lacks urban cachet for a company that prides itself on its urban experiments. The North Carolina state government has also been at loggerheads with Amazon over development of a wind farm and the state’s previous anti-gay HB2 law, and Jeff Bezos may just not want to do a deal there.
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