Washington should benefit because the Puget Sound region, Amazon's primary headquarters, is well positioned to absorb a share of growth that won't happen in New York.
Amazon’s abrupt decision to cancel a headquarters project in New York offers tremendous opportunity and lessons for Washington state.
Washington should benefit because the Puget Sound region, Amazon’s primary headquarters, is well positioned to absorb a share of growth that won’t happen in New York.
Many thousands of new jobs and potentially billions of tax dollars to fund more schools, parks and transportation are at stake.
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Once again, this opportunity is Washington’s to lose.
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Seattle City Hall has done its best to stifle this job creation, creating a template for how organized labor and shortsighted politicians can kill a golden goose, by demonizing a company like Amazon and creating a hostile climate for job creators. That hostility helped convince Amazon in 2017 to build a second headquarters elsewhere. Then the same template was used to scuttle Amazon’s Long Island City HQ2 – Council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold even flew to New York to participate.
Even though Amazon believes it had widespread support in New York, Jeff Bezos and company didn’t want to deal with the same spiteful politics they faced in Seattle. They are tired of being punching bags and busy creating new business models and hiring tens of thousands of people. The company has better places to spend billions constructing new buildings and vibrant clusters of clean, good-paying jobs.
That said, the backroom deal Amazon reached with New York state and city to subsidize the project with nearly $3 billion worth of incentives was unseemly. A more transparent and inclusive process would have improved it and made it less vulnerable to political grandstanding. This is another lesson for Seattle City Hall, which is overly fond of grand bargains with rich and powerful special interests.
The 25,000 jobs that would have gone to the Long Island City HQ2 over the next decade will not automatically revert to HQ1. Amazon is still focused on distributing its workforce across the country more than further concentration in Seattle, where its current headquarters construction is nearing completion. Thursday’s announcement said it will still build hubs in Virginia and Tennessee and “continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.”
But the Seattle area can still win more jobs. Basically the competition for Amazon’s future job growth is back to where it was in 2016, before the HQ2 search kicked off a bidding war between locales desperate for the type of economic growth Seattle saw over the last five years.
In this competition, the Puget Sound region should fare well, as long as politicians don’t further poison the well. Improving the business climate, and reducing hostility to job creators, should be a top issue in this fall’s election when seven of nine Seattle City Council seats are on the ballot. Already four incumbents have bailed out.
Seattle still has ample capacity for Amazon’s commercial and residential growth under current zoning, according to the city’s comprehensive plan. The company has options to expand in the new skyscraper rising at Rainier Square downtown, and it’s expanding in Bellevue. An Amazon representative told this editorial board it plans to continue growing in Seattle, where it now has several thousand job openings, but can’t speculate beyond that. Amazon would also be welcomed at smaller cities in the region that are connected to Seattle by fast transit and ferries.
The Greater Seattle area is clearly a phenomenal place for Bezos to grow his company and keep building the future, as it was for Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
Despite periodic growing pains, the region benefits from such entrepreneurs’ success. They give the region extraordinary job growth, generations of opportunity, an influx of talent, and rivers of revenue for state and local government.
Long live HQ1.