Amazon HQ2 Shortlist: Details On The 20 Finalists In $5B Sweepstakes
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After months of speculation, bets and hefty competition between cities across North America, the race is nearly won. Amazon has selected 20 finalists to house its second headquarters — and most are on the East Coast.
UPDATE, JAN. 18, 1:10 P.M. ET: This story has been updated with details on each city named a finalist.
Wherever Amazon selects from the list — a decision it expects to make later this year — will house 50,000 Amazon employees and be the beneficiary of a $5B economic investment, according to the company.
“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough — all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” Amazon Public Policy spokeswoman Holly Sullivan said in a statement. “Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”
The shortlist is as follows, with additional information on each city's pitch:
Betting website Paddy Power was correct in its prediction that Atlanta would come out as a top contender in the race for Amazon HQ2.
While little is known about Georgia’s initial incentive package, previous reports pegged it at exceeding $1B. There are a handful of sites both the state and city of Atlanta have highlighted, especially The Gulch, a swath of undeveloped land, parking lots and railroad tracks owned in parts by the city and railroad operators in the heart of Downtown Atlanta. Los Angeles-based CIM Group filed plans to develop the land with more than 9M SF of office, 1,000 apartment units, 1,500 hotel rooms and 1M SF of retail — room enough for HQ2 with space to spare.
But there are a host of other sites that can fit Amazon in Atlanta as well, including the redevelopment site of a former General Motors plant on the northern outskirts of the city, a former U.S. Army fort and sites in Midtown, Atlanta, one of the hottest corporate office centers in the past few years, with such names as NCR and Anthem Health.
Working in the city’s favor is the fact that the business sector in Georgia has been extremely healthy and even without Amazon, the state has added 12,400 new jobs and $2.6B in investment from companies into Georgia. The market’s financial and technology sector witnessed the most growth in 2016, with the addition of 9,800 jobs.
Long thought to be a front-runner, with its existing tech hub and stable, business-friendly environment, Austin fulfilled much of the criteria laid out by Amazon in its request for proposals. A Moody’s Analytics report pegged Austin as the top contender for several reasons, including its quality of life and human capital. That Texas is the leading provider of business incentives across the U.S. at $19.1B annually is likely to have attracted Amazon, too.
Austin is already home to an Amazon corporate office, and previous incentive packages lured Samsung and Apple to the city. Its low cost of living compared to other tech hubs like San Francisco is seen as a significant advantage in the HQ2 process. While some might wonder if Austin is big enough to house 50,000 employees for the second headquarters, this city is growing quickly. The metro area grew 20% from 2010 to 2016.
Boston may be short on space, but the city has a number of other factors in its favor. The region is ripe with talent thanks to housing multiple universities, including Harvard and MIT. It also offers easy access to Logan Airport. A report early in the HQ2 bid process noted senior-level Amazon executives were pushing for Boston, citing the company’s existing ties to the area, its lower cost of living than some of its competitors and numerous flights to Seattle and Washington, D.C. While Amazon denied there were any front-runners at that point, the company is said to be looking in the city’s Seaport neighborhood for 500K to 1M SF of offices, roughly the same size requirement for the first phase of HQ2.
During the competition, Boston was not naïve to its downfalls. Quick to account for its shortcomings, the city offered solutions such as investing in transit developments and even suggesting the implementation of a $100M gondola system that could connect multiple sites to ensure Amazon would have access to its requested 8M SF. The city’s official bid site, Suffolk Downs, is touted for being a rare single tract of land owned by a single developer close to the city center and the airport, which has doubled its number of international flights in the last decade. The surge in flights was cited as a factor in Boston luring General Electric away from its longtime home in Connecticut.
Chicago has a number of sites with available contiguous land that could qualify as potential locations for Amazon’s next headquarters. Among the strongest contenders is the Tribune Freedom Center printing site, which could accommodate both the size requirement and connects downtown and River North to the city’s outlying neighborhoods. Lincoln Yards, in the North Branch Industrial Corridor, is another contender. The city’s reputation for high-paying jobs and its large development opportunities have succeeded in pushing Chicago through to the next round. While there are concerns about Chicago’s and Illinois’ ongoing pension and fiscal woes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner have presented a united front in the city’s quest to land Amazon HQ2, and are believed to be offering Amazon at least $2B in tax breaks.
Central Ohio's bid for Amazon HQ2 was a team effort by Columbus 2020, JobsOhio and the city of Columbus, stressing the region's educational institutions — especially Ohio State and its tech nodes — local corporate leadership, and that Columbus competed against 77 cities nationwide to win the Smart City Challenge in 2016.
Incentives sweetened the pot for Central Ohio, including property tax abatements that would mean a savings of about $457K for every $1M in capital expenditures by the retail giant. The city of Columbus would further offer job growth incentives tied to the number of employees hired for the new HQ and create a transit fund to make infrastructure improvements at Amazon's site.
The potential for Dallas to land HQ2 has been hotly debated by analysts. The market’s low cost of living, strong tech labor force and favorable tax structure set it apart from its competition. Were Amazon to opt for the Las Colinas/Irving area, the company would also have access to mass transit on-site, a stable, business-friendly environment that offers competitive office leasing prices and property tax reductions, and easy access to the DFW airport.
Analysts have been mixed with regard to the North Texas city’s odds at sealing the deal. While a Wall Street Journal report said Dallas was the top contender for HQ2, Irish betting site Paddy Power gives it longer odds, 20-1, of landing Amazon.
While the HQ2 shortlist skewed toward East Coast contenders, the Mile High City made the cut. The New York Times said Denver was its leading pick for Amazon, as its affordability and its shared startup scene with nearby Boulder, Colorado, would appeal to the company just as it had to Google, Oracle and Twitter. Some cities on the shortlist like Boston have hinted they would not offer hefty incentives to win HQ2, but Denver seems ready to do whatever it takes to prevail.
Denver’s official bid from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. highlighted the city’s outdoor lifestyle, its potential to grow and connectivity thanks to Denver International Airport, one of the country’s largest. While the Wall Street Journal highlighted Denver in its similarity to Seattle, it scored the city low for its smaller tech workforce and college-age population.
When Indianapolis made its bid for Amazon HQ2, it was reckoned to be something of a long shot — Sperling's Best Places' meta-analysis put the city at 34th out of 64 — but now Indy is in the top 20. The Indianapolis Chamber led central Indiana's bid, with support from Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
"I was gratified to see how many elected and community officials stepped up to help, regardless of where the project might land. The thinking was, 'Whatever I can do to help the region, I will, because it's good for everyone,'" Fadness said at a Bisnow event in November.
Indianapolis meets a number of criteria on Amazon's list, such as an airport in a market with at least a million people, but the city also has something few others do: a shovel-ready, 103-acre site near Downtown. Namely, the former GM stamping plant. Ambrose Property Group acquired the whole site just last year, ripe for redevelopment.
San Diego and Orange County are out but their neighbor in the north is in.
While Los Angeles was not widely thought to be a major contender, the city has a large and diverse population, a feature that has been cited as desirable by Amazon.
Citing competitive reasons, Los Angeles did not publicly disclose the specifics of its proposal but employed a team effort when it came to the bid that contained nine separate sites in Los Angeles County.
In addition to offering a number of potential sites where Amazon could lay down its foundation, the proposal focused on the region’s strong logistics and infrastructure sector, its talent pool and transit. The bid also discussed costs and incentives that Amazon could receive should it choose the city, according to the Daily News.
Miami is the southernmost city on Amazon’s shortlist, and if the e-commerce giant wants to position its HQ2 as a gateway to Latin America, it is a logical choice. The city has worked hard to recruit technology companies, including the creation of a “Magic City Innovation District,” and its new mayor is a young real estate attorney who figures to be the kind of ally Amazon is looking for in its local politician. Florida has no state income tax and some of the world’s best nightlife. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space project is at nearby Cape Canaveral.
The city has little public transit to speak of, legendary traffic problems and it is the farthest major city in the contiguous U.S. from Seattle. It also is the most exposed to climate change, and thousands of residents were without power for an extended period of time last fall after Hurricane Irma. It might have a secret weapon, however: Bezos is a Miami native.
Montgomery County, Maryland
Montgomery County has remained quiet about the incentives it offered and which site, or sites, it put forward for Amazon HQ2. But a heavily redacted copy of its bid released last week appeared to indicate it had narrowed its site options to one. In the bid, it boasted of the area’s highly educated workforce, transportation network and internet connectivity. The county’s neighbor in suburban Maryland, Prince George’s County, put forward multiple bids but was not selected among the finalists. Amazon would join Marriott International, Lockheed Martin and Host Hotels as Fortune 500 companies in the county affectionately known to residents as MoCo.
While it is not considered a tech city and has not been viewed as a front-runner in the battle for Amazon’s HQ2, Music City boasts a number of the features Amazon outlined in its RFP and is the site of an Amazon sorting facility. Nashville also has a business-friendly environment with a relatively low cost of living, in addition to being a young, vibrant community with a diverse population.
In terms of geography, Nashville offers easy access to a number of cities throughout the U.S. and more recently implemented nonstop flights to Seattle and San Francisco, the Tennessean reports. The airport itself will also be getting an update. Nashville International Airport revealed details for a $1.2B expansion in October, with additional plans to include a light rail line that travels directly to the airport.
If all goes to plan, the city’s transit system will be getting a revamp as well. The mayor proposed a $5.2B investment for the mass transit system, which would go toward an expanded bus service, light rail and a major tunnel that would sit below Downtown Nashville.
Surprised Newark, New Jersey, made it onto the shortlist while cities like Houston and Charlotte did not? While Newark may not have the cachet of its neighbor across the Hudson River or the affordability of the Sun Belt, no contender more brazenly dumped its wallet on the table than Newark.
Then-Gov. Chris Christie announced last year that the state would offer Amazon $7B to locate HQ2 in Newark — $2B more than Amazon is projecting its next headquarters to be worth. Audible, Amazon’s audiobook division, already employs 1,000 people in the city, so Amazon’s real estate team is no stranger to doing business here. Just a decade ago, Newark was known mostly for its high violent crime rate. But it has been on an upward trajectory for years, and it is betting $7B Amazon can help erase the lean times from memory.
New York City
In the last 10 years, New York has added more than 76,000 technology jobs, making its talent base for the kind of workers Amazon is targeting among the strongest in the country. Amazon has already taken notice: It signed leases for more than 400K SF of offices in New York in 2017 alone. Beyond the talent base that is already in the city, the sites New York has chosen to offer Amazon include some of the best brands in the world: the World Trade Center, Hudson Yards and Brooklyn.
There are challenges, to be sure: New York is one of the few cities in America with a housing market more expensive than Seattle, and its transportation system is on a downward trajectory after years of mismanagement. Unlike in cities like Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, Amazon would be just another major corporate tenant to call NYC home. But unlike its rivals on this list, New York is one of the only cities in the country that can lay claim to being the center of the business universe.
Multiple jurisdictions in Northern Virginia put forward bids, including Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood, a major development in Tysons and a joint Loudoun County/Fairfax County bid. NoVa boasts two major airports, Dulles International and Reagan National, and is connected to D.C. as part of the Metro system. Arlington last year lured another major corporation from the West Coast when Nestlé decided to move its U.S. HQ from California to a 35-story tower in Rosslyn. Amazon Web Services also signed a 400K SF lease last year on the Dulles Toll Road.
Philadelphia was destined to be at the top of Amazon’s HQ2 wish list, based on a Moody’s Analytics report.
The city has three sites that fit Amazon’s requirements: the Navy Yard, Schuylkill Yards and uCity Square. Philly’s proposal was said to go above and beyond, including offers for satellite office sites, employee housing and locations for Amazon’s business partners and vendors. Philadelphia has young talent, quality public transit and tax incentives. Its location between New York and Washington, D.C., might be the biggest point in its favor, especially considering its relatively affordable housing stock.
Data may have been the best predictor for Amazon’s shortlist. Both Moody’s Analytics and Paddy Power had ranked Pittsburgh high on their lists of potential winners. When it comes to geography, Pittsburgh has a lot working in its favor. Amazon is looking to diversify its talent pool, and Pittsburgh is far enough away from its Seattle headquarters to be viewed as a benefit. The city also has access to the Northeast corridor and Washington, D.C., where CEO and founder Jeff Bezos bought a $23M home, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Pittsburgh's bid for HQ2 was somewhat secretive, with 20 sites in Allegheny, Fayette and Washington counties responding to the city's call for HQ2 locations. The specifics, and especially the incentives, were not disclosed, though officials did come up with a slogan: "Future. Forged. For all."
Even so, statements by public officials said the bid hints that Pittsburgh is more than willing to pony up various incentives.
In October, New York Times columnist James Stewart took the then-surprising position that Pittsburgh would ultimately come out on top, discounting betting favorites like Atlanta and D.C. One key consideration: a site big enough (more than 100 acres) and close enough to an urban core. The former J&L/LTV steel mill in Hazelwood, called Hazelwood Green these days, is ripe for redevelopment.
The Triangle's bid for Amazon HQ2 includes seven sites in Wake, Durham and Chatham counties, though the exact locations were undisclosed due to concerns about losing their competitive advantage, officials said. Though details are a bit murky, the incentive package could be for as much as $50M over more than two decades. The exact package has yet to be approved by city and county officials.
Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill's strength lies in its education cluster, anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which foster a local tech ecosystem of international renown.
Certainly the Triangle area is able to attract tech talent, which Amazon cited as an important consideration for its second HQ. When it comes to attracting top talent from across the country, Raleigh and Durham are outperforming most of the United States. That is according to an analysis by Bloomberg, which puts both cities in the top 10 metro areas that are beneficiaries of brain drain from other parts of the country.
Despite foregoing subsidy offers, Toronto is representing Canada as the only contender in the country to make it onto Amazon’s shortlist.
The city is a national leader in the tech sector and boasts a vast talent pool with eight highly regarded post-secondary institutions and a tech corridor that extends west to its Kitchener-Waterloo region — coined the Silicon Valley of the north. Between 2011 and 2016, Toronto added 51,300 tech jobs, an increase of 31.8%.
With Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs recently choosing the region on which to build a new “smart city,” chances are its heavy tech focus could increase its chances, making it a prime location for Amazon.
Toronto also provides easy access to a number of regions throughout North America near an international flight hub. In addition to a healthy economy, the city has a strong business climate and offers an immigration policy that could be seen as favorable to Amazon. The number of foreign-born residents in Toronto amounts to roughly 10% more than any other city in the continent, according to Techvibes.
Several analysts have named Washington, D.C., as a top contender for landing Amazon HQ2. D.C. put forward four sites for consideration and offered a series of reimbursements and tax exemptions in its largest-ever incentive package, in addition to spending tens of thousand of dollars marketing its bid. The District highlighted its highly educated workforce, its colleges and universities, its diverse neighborhoods, its transportation infrastructure and its stable economy. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and bought a $23M house in D.C., fueling speculation he favors the nation’s capital. D.C. economic development officials have expressed a willingness to collaborate with its neighboring jurisdictions, but with Northern Virginia and Montgomery County also among the finalists, the regional competition could begin to heat up.
CORRECTION, JAN. 18, 5:20 P.M. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the percentage of Toronto's foreign-born population. The story has been updated.