Snohomish and King counties are leading the way on a regional approach. Now we need Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver to join the effort.
AMAZON’S announcement that it will invest $5 billion in a second headquarters with a workforce of 50,000 has cities across Washington and the rest of the nation scrambling to develop pitches worthy enough to earn the corporate giant’s approval.
It is unlikely that individual cities in our state will be able to compete with the massive tax incentives other states across the nation will offer, nor should they. Instead, we should think big and make the best regional pitch — a statewide pitch together — that ensures those high paying jobs land in Washington.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform Washington’s economy, like adding another Amazon or Boeing, but distributing the prosperity beyond Seattle to every corner of our state. We cannot afford a piecemeal approach that pits our cities or counties against each other. It makes far more sense to pool our assets and do this together.
Our collective pitch should be focused on workforce availability and infrastructure. Let’s be innovative about working with Amazon to develop a plan for satellite offices across the state.
Thankfully, Snohomish County, the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County and King County are leading the way on a regional approach. Now is the time to get Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver into the fold as well.
Vancouver has tons of tech talent, many more potential commuters across the bridge in Portland, and it is close to an international airport. Not to mention, Amazon moved its data centers to Portland a few years ago when Washington state let the data-center incentive expire.
Over in Spokane, we have incredible relationships with local universities, affordable cost of living, inexpensive construction costs and reduced seismic risk.
Tacoma has a revitalized downtown corridor with a new link light rail system.
But, if we are going to do this right, we have to be vocally self-critical about our shortcomings and work quickly to systematically address them.
For instance, the boom in tech jobs in Seattle was not matched by a corresponding boost in infrastructure, for which Amazon is routinely blamed. That hostility toward Amazon needs to be replaced with a spirit of collaboration. Any successful proposal will need to start by fixing the existing problems around South Lake Union and beyond.
Satellite offices can go a long way toward relieving traffic. After all, many Amazon workers are already moving out of King County to places like Bothell. North Creek, outside of Bothell, now has more tech workers per census tract than Seattle. Since those employees are commuting to South Lake Union, having them stay at a Bothell satellite office will be a benefit to not only those employees and their families, but it will reduce traffic congestion on Interstate 405 and the Interstate 5 corridor for the rest of us.
We also have not adequately addressed our state’s workforce-development issues. We are turning kids away from computer science in some schools because we lack the physical space needed to teach them. It takes 14 years on average for a college to get a new building. The pace of innovation in tech, at Amazon specifically, cannot wait 14 years for qualified employees.
This is where the state can play a role in securing Amazon’s second headquarters. The statewide satellite office idea lends itself perfectly to enhancing the Commute Trip Reduction Act, which could help big employers like Amazon to partner with the Washington State Department of Transportation to map out their employees’ travel patterns and identify the best locations for satellite campuses as a way to better manage traffic and cut commute times. The state can also provide expedited permitting for infrastructure projects that facilitate economic development in job centers.
We can dramatically ramp up the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees both operationally and by providing more higher education infrastructure. Lastly, we can bring back the data-center incentive and pass an amended research and development credit. Amazon has had a cascading economic impact supporting a growing cluster of innovative companies in our region, which can be better served, too.
If our cities and the Legislature work together, there are countless advantages we can tap.
Whether we succeed or not, we will have done it together, and we will collectively send a message to Amazon that its success is ours, too.