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Amazon Economic Development Head On HQ2 And The Role Companies Play In Land Use

JBG Smith's Matt Kelly, Virginia Tech's Timothy Sands, Amazon's Holly Sullivan and Greater Washington Partnership's Jason Miller

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amazon has created disruptive changes not just to e-commerce, but also to local communities, from its distribution centers to its corporate campuses. The company's global economic development chief said it has a role to play in making that change positive. 

Amazon Worldwide Head of Economic Development Holly Sullivan, speaking Wednesday at the Urban Land Institute's Fall Meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C., said it has tried to make positive placemaking a focus of its development of its 25,000-worker, 4M SF Amazon HQ2 project in Northern Virginia. 

"We're all pushing the same train, we just have to be very mindful of creating an environment where young people and seniors can continue to live and thrive, and providing amenities and infrastructure beyond streets and sidewalks, but the built environment and green space that create successful placemaking for everyone," Sullivan said. "Private companies have a responsibility and a role in that space."

Sullivan, who has worked for economic development organizations in the D.C. and Nashville areas, said she understands the power of land-use decision-making. 

"Something we don't have control over ... that I think is really critical, is the power of land use," Sullivan said. "It is a very powerful tool local governments have and states have influence over that can really help shape neighborhoods and shape communities. The land use opportunities of working together as a region to understand the decisions we make today have implications later are really critical to this region's success."

A rendering of the two 22-story towers Amazon plans for the first phase of HQ2

JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly, whose development firm is partnering with Amazon on its HQ2 campus in the area of Arlington newly branded as National Landing, said private companies should get involved more with local planning in the areas they are based.

"Cities and places function better when businesses and employees plug in and get involved at a local level," Kelly said. "Being involved and active politically I think is important because we see all the time you can have a very small group of people that can dictate outcomes from an urban planning standpoint that doesn't represent the majority."

The top issues that can constrain the growth of a region, Kelly said, are housing, transportation, infrastructure and education. He said these are all issues that have political processes for people to get involved, and he said people who support growth should be more active.

"In many cities throughout the country where there has been prosperity, there has also been NIMBYism," Kelly said. "NIMBYs want to constrain how much growth can be accomodated in the built environment, and that puts a real constraint on the ability for businesses to grow and hire people."

Sullivan said Amazon has continued to have an ongoing dialogue with not just the local Arlington County community, but also other parts of the D.C. region that will be impacted by HQ2.

"There is still that regional cooperation and success story of Amazon putting a fairly significant flag in Arlington County that it is a win for everyone," Sullivan said. "We continue to have very good relationships and champion each of those jurisdictions to make sure it's a success. Our employees will be living in those jurisdictions and be part of those communities. It is important we continue that regional conversation."