Amazon said it expects to have at least 15,000 employees in Bellevue in the next few years as the company expands from its Seattle headquarters to tap the Eastside labor pool.
That would be more than a sevenfold increase from now and total about as many people as worked at Bellevue’s top three employers combined at the end of 2018.
Amazon specified the employment plan in a corporate blog post Thursday, detailing more of what its real estate moves over the last two years, including plans for what would be Bellevue’s tallest office tower, have signaled.
The company is not reducing its Seattle workforce, now more than 50,000 people, though thousands of jobs in the worldwide operations group are moving to Bellevue under plans announced previously. But as space in Seattle is emptied by those teams, other Amazonians fill it up.
Amazon has more than 11,000 Seattle-specific job openings and continues to add space in Seattle, finishing up a decadelong building boom that transformed the city. The company’s two newest buildings along Eighth Avenue between Blanchard and Bell streets in the Denny Regrade — or just “The Regrade,” the neighborhood name Amazon has festooned on the new buildings — opened to employees this week. One of the so-called Nitro buildings, named for a technology underpinning part of Amazon’s cloud computing business, houses a Mary’s Place shelter for families. Some 640,000 square feet of new office space on this one Seattle block will accommodate more than 3,000 Seattle employees.
The growth in Seattle continues despite Amazon’s rocky relationship with the Seattle City Council during the last three years. Critics of a contentious and ultimately repealed 2018 attempt to tax Amazon and other big businesses – restarted this year by Councilmember Kshama Sawant – have sought to position Amazon’s growth outside of Seattle as a rebuke, evidence that Seattle is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
A bill in the Legislature to allow King County to impose a tax on big businesses to fund housing, homeless services and public safety – and which gained support Tuesday from many large companies, including Amazon – would hit Amazon regardless of where in the county its employees are. Amazon has 55,000 in the broader Puget Sound region, including workers at its fulfillment centers and retail stores. Nationwide, Amazon employs more than 500,000 people; it has a global workforce of 798,000.
Amazon made no direct mention of animosity with Seattle or tax avoidance in a blog post explaining its expansion in Bellevue, where it already has 2,000 workers and nearly 700 job openings and continues to hire. Amazon, founded by Jeff Bezos in a house in Bellevue, described its original home city as “business-friendly,” praising its amenities, quality of life and “fantastic talent pool.”
With an aim of broadening its appeal to would-be employees who don’t want to work in Seattle, Amazon’s Bellevue growth is similar to its move to establish a second headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., albeit without the economic development incentives it’s receiving in Virginia. It also represents a full embrace of a strategy pursued by many major technology companies in the Seattle area, such as Google and Facebook, which maintain large offices on both sides of Lake Washington to provide more convenient locations and easier commutes for employees regardless of where they live.
Microsoft was Bellevue’s largest employer with 6,300 people, according to a city survey last updated at the end of 2018. T-Mobile was second with 5,100. Expedia, with 3,900, was third, though it has since moved to Seattle, and Amazon is preparing to move employees into Expedia’s former headquarters in Bellevue this fall. The city is updating its estimates now and already expects a net increase of about 18,000 jobs, including from Amazon, in the downtown by 2025. There are about 52,000 currently working in Bellevue’s core.
Amazon’s blog post quotes Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson and Bellevue Downtown Association President Patrick Bannon welcoming the company’s growth in the city. Amazon’s head of worldwide operations, Dave Clark, is scheduled to speak to the downtown business group on Thursday night.
The company’s downtown Bellevue campus will emphasize access to existing and new public transit service coming to the city in 2023. All of the buildings currently slated to accommodate the company’s Bellevue growth are within a half-mile of the light-rail station. Employees will be encouraged to use public transit (and given free ORCA cards), private Amazon shuttles and ride-hailing services (also subsidized by Amazon), and discouraged from driving in alone: The 43-story Bellevue 600 project, currently in permitting, will have 40% fewer parking stalls (1.2 per 1,000 square feet) than the city’s standard.
Amazon is also integrating its growth with ongoing transportation improvements. Its plans for the tower include a park and plaza adjacent to the planned Grand Connection pedestrian pathway cutting through the city.
The more than 2.8 million square feet of space Amazon has secured or plans to build in Bellevue, including temporary space in a WeWork office, is enough for between 11,800 and 13,300 employees, using space-to-employee ratios suggested by its newest Seattle buildings. That suggests that Amazon would need to lease an additional 370,000 to 770,000 square feet to accommodate the 15,000 workers it intends to have in Bellevue. Permitting documents show a second tower adjacent to the Bellevue 600 project, but Amazon is not currently planning to build it.
Bellevue is not the only Eastside city seeing an influx from the retail, technology and logistics behemoth: In December, Amazon secured space in Redmond for its satellite broadband internet venture, Project Kuiper.
Seattle Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this report.