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The Ones That Didn't Make It: 5 Cities Surprisingly Left Off Amazon's HQ2 Shortlist


Twenty locations celebrated Thursday after Amazon named them finalists in the battle to win HQ2.

But that left 218 unhappy also-rans, including a few cities analysts had considered viable candidates for the headquarters.


Houston was the largest U.S. city to bid and not be named a finalist. It has large swaths of available land, including two sites that were included in bids for Amazon, and is already welcoming 4,000 Amazon employees to Pinto Business Park.

Flooding may have raised Amazon's alarm bells, but Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey cited Houston's lack of reputation as a tech hub as a key detractor.

"I believe this is a wake-up call for Houston," Harvey said. "While there has been growing momentum in the innovation space over the last couple of years, this is a clear indication that we have much more work to do as a region to grow our digital economy."


Raleigh, North Carolina, made Amazon's shortlist, but its sister city, Charlotte, did not.

Charlotte had gone full-court press on Amazon, designating a "Charlotte Is Prime Day" and blasting social media campaigns touting perfect year-round weather, Crowders Mountain and a large millennial population. (We use the basketball metaphor because Michael Jordan was involved, writing a letter personally to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to consider Charlotte.)

With Amazon out of the picture, Charlotte is turning its focus to attracting Apple.

San Francisco

While Bay Area Council Senior Vice President of Public Policy Matt Regan said Amazon told him the Bay Area bid (a partnership of five cities) was among the most innovative and interesting, it was not enough to secure a finalist position.

Regan said he suspects Amazon’s already-large investment in the Bay Area was one of the drivers in its decision to seek out sites elsewhere. Amazon leased over 650K SF throughout the region last year, and hired nearly 4,000 people. Amazon leases a total of 3M SF in the Bay Area, Regan said.

“While we didn’t make the shortlist for the official second headquarters, I think there is a strong argument that we already are,” Regan said. “We lost because we’ve already won.”

Irvine, California

Irvine may not have offered $7B to Amazon the way New Jersey did, but it offered a pretty sweet deal: If Amazon moved its HQ2 into the Irvine Spectrum district, it would only have to pay the rent. That would have saved the company the $5B it estimates it will cost to buy and entitle land and design and build its new campus. Irvine Co., the company behind the master planned city and Irvine Spectrum, made that offer possible. Among the highlighted pros for the city were Southern California's educated workforce, local universities, connectivity, and sun and surf at the local beaches.

Amazon chose to spurn that offer, though it did put neighbor Los Angeles on the shortlist.


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan publicly backed Baltimore as his preferred location for HQ2 in Maryland, but Amazon passed it up in favor of Montgomery County.

Baltimore offered two large, attractive tracts to Amazon, including one in Port Covington neighboring Under Armour's HQ. Hogan planned an incentive package that would have included investment in public transit to Kevin Plank's Under Armour mega-campus. But Baltimore once again has been confronted with its struggles to recruit out-of-town businesses, an issue some attribute to its reputation for violent crime.