An unusually long shortlist, surprising underdogs, and other takeaways from Amazon's announcement of its HQ2 finalists.
Amazon’s 20-city shortlist for its second headquarters featured its share of surprises. Starting with its unusual length, here are a few takeaways from the next phase of the online retailer’s hunt for HQ2:
That’s a big list
Many companies that undertake a corporate-office search pick a few shortlist contenders for site visits and final pitches, corporate-relocation consultants say. Automaker Tesla named four states as finalists a few years ago when picking a site for a massive battery factory. Boeing’s stealthy hunt for an initial site for its 787 project also landed on four locations.
Amazon’s HQ & HQ2
- Amazon names 20 finalists in search for HQ2
- A not-so-short HQ2 shortlist, and other take-aways from Amazon’s finalists
- 2 kinds of cities made list of finalists for Amazon HQ2
- See how the 20 Amazon HQ2 finalists compare, and vote on your choice
- Amazon receives 238 bids for its second headquarters
- Cities are free to discuss Amazon HQ2 bids, but many won’t
- Amazon’s surprise plan for HQ2 is a bold experiment
- Thanks to Amazon, Seattle is now America’s biggest company town
- Read more about Amazon and its HQ2 plans.
“It’s kind of like getting into the NBA playoffs: Everybody gets in,” joked Jim Renzas, a corporate-location consultant, as he scrolled through Amazon’s shortlist Thursday.
Then again, most companies don’t launch a public search — or field 238 proposals — the way Amazon did. A larger shortlist, some noted, means fewer policymakers and economic developers coming away with hard feelings.
Detroit had been a popular choice of HQ2 handicappers, with the automotive capital — coming out of bankruptcy and pushing for an urban renaissance — striking many as a feel-good underdog story. (Never mind that the champion of the city’s bid was billionaire mortgage magnate Dan Gilbert.)
Amazon landed on a different set of underdogs in the eastern third of the country. Columbus, Ohio, Nashville and Indianapolis fare poorly by some of the logistical factors in Amazon’s wish list. All have low mass-transit use and small airports — only Nashville has a daily flight to Seattle.
But development and worker housing there would come much cheaper than the megacities on Amazon’s list. Nashville scores particularly high by quality-of-life metrics including entertainment and restaurants, as well as measures of tax rates and job growth.
A focus on the other Washington
More than a third of Amazon’s candidates are in the dense urban corridor that stretches from Boston southwest to Washington, D.C.
Most Read Business Stories
- Cutting off stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 could be wise, new data suggests
- New delay in 777X swells massive Boeing loss in 2020, the largest in its history
- Amazon seeks to block shareholder proposals on hate speech, diversity, workplace conditions and surveillance tech
- Millions of stimulus payments were mailed as prepaid debit cards. Some say they look like scams.
- Seattle home prices still climbing at second-fastest rate in nation
The metropolitan area around the nation’s capital boasts three contenders on its own. Bids from D.C. itself, Montgomery County, Maryland, and an unspecified area of Northern Virginia made the first cut.
Observers were quick to point out that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the owner of a mansion in Washington, D.C.
Betting on Bezos looking for a short commute from his various real-estate properties opens up lots of options, however. The world’s richest man also owns homes in New York, Beverly Hills, Calif., and West Texas, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Little love for the West Coast
Amazon’s move to split its headquarters between two cities is unprecedented. In assessing the potential benefits of such a move, observers suggested the ability to tap into a different pool of workers as a prime factor.
An office in the hotbed of high-tech companies in Silicon Valley would open up avenues to the workers already there, but, fundamentally, Amazon would be hiring from the same group of talent: folks living in, or willing to move to, the West Coast.
More than two dozen cities up and down the Pacific Coast bid for HQ2. Only Los Angeles survived the first cut.
Amazon said from the outset that its search was throughout “North America” — rather than just the U.S. — and Canadian cities from Vancouver to Halifax took Amazon up on the offer. So did Mexico, with bidders from three areas submitting proposals.
Calgary was among the most aggressive suitors for Amazon’s attention, blanketing Seattle with ads and aiming a similar digital fire hose at Amazon employees on social media.
In the end, Toronto was the only city outside the U.S. to advance to Amazon’s final 20.