Amazon is a major economic driver of Seattle, which is also a major economic driver for the state. Is the announcement by the tech giant, to build a second headquarters outside of Seattle, a sign of things to come?
Critics of Seattle politics are blaming City Hall for Amazon’s news Thursday that it will build a second headquarters somewhere else.
But some local leaders — still digesting the massive implications and seeking more details — say the South Lake Union-based tech giant can continue to thrive in the Emerald City, in step with their left-wing ways.
“My office will immediately begin conversations with Amazon around their needs with today’s announcement and the company’s long-term plans for Seattle,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in statement Thursday.
“And we will coordinate with Governor (Jay) Inslee to convene key business and community leaders to plan for our future growth and response to this announcement. I look forward to working with Amazon to secure their long-term, successful future in the heart of Seattle.”
The news rippled rapidly through Washington’s political circles, leaving some leaders enthused, others worried and still others angry as they wondered aloud about Amazon’s motivations.
A spokeswoman for Inslee said the governor’s office would be in touch with Amazon to learn more and would ask about additional development possibilities in-state.
Murray called Thursday “an exciting day” for Amazon, which has “helped Seattle become an international technology and business hub.”
“It is telling that Amazon is looking for a city in the model of Seattle for its second home,” the mayor said.
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce struck a different tone, suggesting local politics were responsible for the company’s choice.
“It is my sincere hope that today’s announcement will serve as a wake-up call,” Chamber president Maud Daudon said in a statement.
“This means intentionally improving our overall business climate, and changing attitudes about the amazing employers and access to jobs we are fortunate to have here.”
Thursday’s announcement, Daudon said, “should come as no surprise, as the city has continued to implement policies that create an environment that is at best unfriendly, and at worst outright hostile toward the needs of our largest employers.”
But Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess said leaders were indeed blindsided.
“I learned about it when I got an alert on my phone from a news organization and I thought, ‘Uh oh. What’s that mean?’ ” Burgess said in an interview. “But they were quick in calling around to elected officials, myself included, to give an explanation.”
The council member said his mind immediately jumped to Boeing’s decision to move its headquarters out of Seattle years ago, taking jobs away. But his conversation with an Amazon representative was reassuring, Burgess said.
“They talked about how they have 5,000 to 6,000 open positions in Seattle right now and they intend to fill those,” he said. “I interpret this as them continuing to grow.”
Seattle’s progressive policies, such as its minimum-wage hikes and its new income tax on wealthy households, aren’t driving Amazon away, Burgess said.
“There’s no evidence of that,” he said. “This city is booming economically and the business community is extremely successful here. This city is doing extremely well.”
There’s no doubt Amazon is engaging more in Seattle politics, however, becoming a big time contributor to the Chamber’s political arm for the first time this year, amid mayoral and council races.
Former Mayor Mike McGinn, who failed to advance beyond the Aug. 1 primary in a comeback bid this summer, said the company is part of a business mindset anxious about left-wing activists dominating City Hall and raising taxes on businesses.
“They want a mayor to counteract a more liberal council,” McGinn said.
In an interview, Daudon put it this way: “There’s a mounting sense of frustration and concern that the city … just doesn’t get it. They’re not a true partner.”
Pointing her finger in the opposite direction Thursday was Seattle’s socialist council member, Kshama Sawant.
“Amazon’s quest for a second massive corporate base is reminiscent of Boeing’s ongoing efforts to ship jobs out of the Seattle area and hold us hostage,” Sawant said.
And Councilmember Lisa Herbold found a silver lining.
“It gives us a little breathing room to build good mass transit, ensure affordable housing and open up pathways into higher education for the future workforce,” she said.
Moon, the mayoral candidate, said she’s confident Seattle will continue to be a tech-sector leader. But Moon said she wouldn’t give the company goodies to keep it loyal.
“I’m not interested in playing that game if Amazon isn’t serious about helping to pay for the impacts of their rapid growth on our city,” she said.
In a statement, Durkan said Seattle needs to help train more students and workers for the jobs that companies such as Amazon are creating.
“The city must be partner to building career pathways as well as working closely with our employers to make sure our businesses keep Seattle as their home,” she said.
Amazon is a major job creator and taxpayer in Seattle, and what happens in Washington’s largest city impacts the entire state. So Thursday’s news was a conversation starter everywhere.
In a Facebook post, state Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, called it a blow.
“One of the greatest engines for economic growth known to history will be growing somewhere else,” said Wilcox, the state House’s minority floor leader.
“As this plays out over the next few years, I believe there will be wrenching change at City Hall,” Wilcox said.
Susan Hutchison, the Washington State Republican Party leader, offered similar comments, predicting Amazon would invest in a more conservative state, such as Tennessee, Florida or Texas.
But State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said Thursday he wasn’t worried about a second headquarters hurting Seattle.
“I expect us to still be, for decades to come, a force for global technology,” he said. “And Amazon is a central anchor of that DNA.”
McGinn, whose 2010 through 2013 term as mayor saw Amazon surge in South Lake Union, said he wonders what exactly is behind the company’s new plan.
“Is this being driven by their business needs or by some desire to have leverage over the city? The answer is probably both,” McGinn said.
In a request for proposals from cities wooing the company, Amazon says it wants a site close to diverse housing options with access to mass transit and bike lanes.
Seattle has been building out its bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and Sound Transit plans to construct a new light-rail line serving South Lake Union.
But for now, the neighborhood is clogged and the entire city, like others capable of attracting talented employees, is struggling with a lack of affordable housing.
A more suburban setting might be cheaper, but that would run counter to a nationwide trend that has seen many companies move jobs back to inner cities, McGinn noted, citing Weyerhaeuser’s relocation from Federal Way to Pioneer Square.
“Is Amazon trying to buck that trend or just find a more-affordable version of Seattle elsewhere in the country?” McGinn said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Matt Day contributed to this report.