In the wake of Amazon’s surprise decision to open a second headquarters somewhere other than Seattle, local and state leaders must find ways to assure Amazon and other companies that they are still welcome and able to grow in this region.
SEATTLE and the state of Washington will continue to benefit from Amazon.com’s remarkable expansion, despite the company’s surprising decision to open a second headquarters elsewhere in North America.
Yet there’s no mistaking this is a distressing wake-up call. Especially Amazon’s newfound indifference to Seattle remaining its primary headquarters.
State and local government and business leaders must respond by assuring Amazon, other large employers and entrepreneurs that Greater Seattle still has the capacity, talent and desire to enable their companies’ growth.
Any civic shortcomings need a concerted response. Amazon should help by explaining what its hometown can do to better support fast-growing, large-scale companies.
Seattle’s current political leaders must recognize that poor planning and anti-business posturing come with a heavy price. Their politicking creates uncertainty for job creators and was a factor in Amazon’s decision to look elsewhere to expand.
Amazon’s growth, while a source of pride to most, has not been easy for the region. City leaders’ failure to adequately plan for the residential, commercial and traffic growth it permitted created an environment where Amazon was blamed for Seattle’s growing pains.
Other cities crave the diversity, prosperity and clean, good-paying jobs that Amazon brings. Seattle City Hall used tension over Amazon’s growth and wealth creation as leverage, to fulfill developer wish lists and advance labor’s political agenda, including an income tax that’s illegal under state law.
It’s telling that Seattle’s largest employer gave city leadership no advance notice of its momentous decision.
Instead of hyping growth pains to justify upzones, Seattle officials should have been working closely with Amazon on its expansion plans. Now they need to remind Amazon and everyone else that regional growth plans show a surplus of residential and commercial capacity.
It won’t be lost on historians that two months after City Hall cheered itself for “taxing the rich,” Amazon chose to seek a “stable and business-friendly environment” for its next act: A $5 billion investment and 50,000 new jobs.
While the winning city may pay a steep price to attract Amazon, it will benefit from the talented people the company hires from across the country and globe. They will bring a cultural and intellectual richness, as well as economic growth that Seattle has at times taken for granted. Tens of thousands of non-tech jobs will follow, along with all manner of hotels, restaurants and microbreweries.
To be sure, Amazon was going to expand in other tech hubs one way or another. It hopes to grow at a rate that’s difficult, if not impossible, for any one city to support.
Microsoft did this in the 1990s. The Eastside suffered similar growing pains but absorbed and supported the rise of what was for many years the world’s pre-eminent tech company.
However, while Microsoft opened big research and development centers across the U.S., Asia and Europe, it continued to call Redmond its home and headquarters. Amazon, in contrast, explicitly said last week that it’s no longer wedded to Seattle.
While Amazon will continue growing here, it said its second headquarters will have equal standing. Current and future employees and executives at all levels will be free to choose either location.
The end of Amazon’s Seattle monogamy comes as Jeff Bezos spends time with other pursuits, such as his Blue Origin aerospace company. Last year, Amazon named chief executives to lead Amazon’s two largest businesses, retail and web services.
A second headquarters gives Amazon options for restructuring and recruiting, including top executives who might prefer to lead from somewhere else, such as California, New York or Canada.
Despite the politics and grumbling about housing prices and traffic, Seattle deeply appreciates Amazon. We’re proud of its success and how it continues our tradition of spawning innovative, world-changing companies.
Now the region must ensure Amazon keeps growing here, and that the Seattle area continues to be seen as a tremendous place to start and grow the next breakthrough venture.