Amazon's short list skews toward the East Coast and Midwest — in the Pacific time zone, only Los Angeles made the cut. Let's meet the competitors, starting in the Northeast.
Top universities like Harvard and MIT are frequently mentioned in assessments of Boston’s chances of landing Amazon’s HQ2, with a deep technical talent pool cited as one of the city's greatest advantages. Its international airport, extensive mass transit system, and quality of life are all big positives for the New England city. However, it does have downsides, including a cost of living that is among the highest in the country and lack of available real estate.
New York City, Newark, N.J.
If you want to be where the action is, you go to New York. The Big Apple is still the hub of American business, and Amazon would have access to all of it, plus an enormous and well-skilled base of potential employees. A dark horse is Newark, which offers much of the same workforce, with far lower real estate costs and a standing offer of $7 billion in state and city tax breaks for HQ2. But both are costly and complex places to do business, and Amazon’s employees would pay some of the highest housing costs and local taxes in the nation.
The least expensive of the big East Coast cities on Amazon’s short list, some say Philadelphia could make for a strong contender. It offers much of the brainpower found in Boston or Washington, but in a more manageable package. And it has some large industrial sites that Amazon could transform with its new campus. But there are questions about how much Pennsylvania will pony up in subsidies, and whether its economy, which is not especially tech-focused, has the sort of workforce Amazon is looking for.
Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, Md., Northern Virginia
Some say Amazon tipped its hand by listing three different parts of metro DC on its short list, and the nation’s capital has a strong case, from well-regarded universities to a (mostly) pleasant quality of life to access to political movers and shakers. DC could get a hometown discount, too. Bezos owns a mansion there, and the Washington Post. But DC is kind of a one-industry town. How would a tech-titan fit in culturally? It’s expensive, too, no cheaper than Seattle (or Boston). And those three competing bids could muddy the metro area’s appeal.
If Amazon wants Boston-level brains at a bargain price, they might head to the Research Triangle. Lots of other companies have, turning this corner of the Southeast into a hub for the tech and life science industries, with a lower cost of living than the Northeast or San Francisco Bay Area. Raleigh-Durham is growing fast, but it’s relatively small, with no real transit system and less of an airport than you’d find in larger markets. Bitter political fights in recent years in North Carolina could turn off Amazon as well.
Miami boosters themselves were a bit surprised to see their city on the short list, but they note it is a truly global city – the business capital of Latin America – with a big logistics and air freight industry that Amazon could find valuable. It also happens to be where Bezos, whose stepfather is a Cuban immigrant, lived as a teenager. But Miami lacks the big universities or deep tech industry that many say Amazon wants in a second home. And there is no place in the continental United States that is farther from Seattle than South Florida.
In economic development circles, Pittsburgh is hot. And Amazon apparently thinks so, too. The Steel City has become a global hub for robotics and is home to a world-class engineering school at Carnegie Mellon, which has helped bring tech biggies like Google, Apple and Amazon itself to town. A relatively low cost of living and high quality of life help, too. Despite that, Pittsburgh is losing population, a daunting prospect for a company that wants to hire 50,000 people over 20 years, and both air service and public transportation could be drawbacks.
One of the smallest cities that made Amazon’s list, Ohio’s state capital punches above its weight. It’s home to The Ohio State University, with one of the nation’s largest student bodies, and a surprising number of corporate headquarters, including firms with deep expertise in retail and logistics. It’s also one of the fastest-growing regions in the Midwest. But it’d be a stretch to call Columbus a global city. Its airport is international in name only, and doesn’t even have a direct flight to Seattle. And there’s no transit system to speak of.
UPS, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot call Atlanta home. Why not Amazon? With its white-collar workforce, world-class airport and relatively low costs, Atlanta does the corporate headquarters thing better than most cities. Throw in a sizable logistics industry and a great engineering school in Georgia Tech, and Jeff Bezos could come down to Georgia.
If there’s a surprise on Amazon’s short list, it’s Indianapolis. With just 2 million residents, metro Indy may be too small to provide the workers Amazon needs. The nearest major universities are an hour’s drive away. And it’s not the easiest place to get to by air. That said, Indianapolis is home to some corporate heavyweights, such as health insurance giant Anthem, and has a burgeoning tech scene. If Jeff Bezos wants his HQ2 to build a mid-sized city up to the big leagues, Indianapolis could be it.
A rising star in the South, Nashville could offer Amazon the kind of low-key lifestyle and dynamic business climate Bezos found in Seattle 25 years ago. It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and a growing rival to Atlanta and Charlotte as a business hub. A bonus: Like Washington State, Tennessee has no state income tax, so Amazonians keep more of their paycheck. But, it’s relatively small and lacks the large universities or education system that Amazon may be looking for. It’s built for the car, too.
The City of Big Shoulders has a big workforce, a world-class airport and a growing tech scene. It’s also home to some of the country’s biggest corporations, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been aggressive in his bid to woo Amazon. So don’t count Chicago out. The downside? State finances in Illinois are a wreck, which could limit incentives and worry Amazon execs about future tax hikes.
Big D is a big company town, and could make a big push for Amazon. It’s a huge city with plenty of workers, and home to a slew of blue-chip companies. And Texas has a long history of paying up to bring good-paying jobs to the state, so they’ll compete on incentives. Finding land shouldn’t be a problem either. The University of Texas – Dallas offered Amazon 100 acres for free, and other big sites abound. Transit is lacking, for such a big city, and traffic can be brutal. It’s also possible a string of socially-conservative state laws could turn off a company that wants a good “cultural fit” for its employees.
It’s a vibrant tech town with a smart workforce and one of the nation’s biggest and best public universities. Housing costs are modest compared with many coastal cities. And Amazon’s newest acquisition — Whole Foods — is headquartered there.
Smart, young workforce? Check. Big sites near downtown? Yup. Major airport and viable transit system? Got it. Denver checks nearly all of the boxes Amazon sets up in its RFP, and boasts 300 days of sunshine a year — for when execs need a break from that Seattle gloom.
If Amazon wants to grow in the entertainment business, what better place than Hollywood? But beyond the glitz, L.A. is also an enormous logistics hub, where many of the goods Amazon sells arrive by boat from Asia then get shipped off across the US. And its growing “Silicon Beach” gives Southern California a tech workforce that’s starting to catch up with the Bay Area and Seattle. But, L.A. is enormous, expensive and notoriously tough to navigate. It’s also on the West Coast – the only West Coast city on the short list – and many experts think Amazon wants to head east for its HQ2.
If Amazon wants a globally connected city with quality schools and a growing tech industry, it might look north of the border. Toronto’s got all of that. As a bonus for Bezos, he could send a clear message to President Trump about the costs of restrictive immigration policies. But, crossing the border would not be without its costs, and most of Amazon’s sales, employees and suppliers are in the United States. Toronto, too, has felt the effects of surging housing prices, and the squeeze of rapid growth.
Source: The Seattle Times, U.S. Census, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Statistics Canada, The Brookings Institute, The Brookfield Institute, Apartmentlist.com, Zillow.com, Canadian Real Estate Association, Good Jobs First, Google maps
*NOTE: The data of all bids showing on the map is collected by The Seattle Times, and The Boston Globe staff expanded it. The map does NOT include all 238 bids as Amazon did not release a list of all proposals.