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And then there were two: HQ2 sites, in hindsight, seemed obvious

The two cities already had the greatest number of Amazon employees outside of Seattle.

December 11, 2018 |

After 11 months of hoping, praying, and more than a little begging, 18 finalist cities came away empty handed from the lottery for Amazon’s second headquarters, which promised the winner a Powerball of 50,000 high-paying jobs, $5 billion in direct investment, and an economic boon.

On Nov. 12, Amazon confirmed that it had chosen two locations—Long Island City in the New York borough of Queens, and the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va.—where it will split its hiring and investment plans for its second homes.

Amazon’s overhyped yet secretive selection process—starting with the announcement of its plans in September 2017, followed by a six-week pitch period that drew bids from 238 cities—produced a short list of metros whose elected officials and business leaders pleaded their cases and promised the moon: tax breaks, land grants, and infrastructure improvements in the billions of dollars. (Why this largesse should be bestowed on one company is a topic for another time.)

As it turned out, though, Amazon’s HQ2 picks may have been preordained. The two cities already had the greatest number of Amazon employees outside of Seattle, and they offer a robust talent pool. Arlington is also near Washington, D.C., where Amazon’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos lords over the Washington Post.


See Also: Amazon selects HQ2 cities


If, in fact, the two winners were always the frontrunners, and this whole exercise was a charade (as some of the chagrined cities suspect), Amazon pulled off a masterful act of manipulation and mass hypnosis, convincing the other contenders they had a legit shot. Officials in places like Denver, Chicago, and Boston—which were among the “leaders” cited in media speculation—are probably still scratching their heads about why their cities were also-rans.

During its vetting process, the tech giant gained access to troves of financial and demographic data about the cities it was considering. I don’t think it’s too cynical to suggest that Amazon will eventually use this information for other business purposes.

What, exactly, will the two winning cities be getting for their efforts, aside from more mass transit congestion? Probably not equal to what Amazon’s 14-million-sf presence has meant to Seattle’s economy and growth.

The stage has been set for Round 2, where developers and AEC firms trip over each other trying to get a piece of whatever Amazon is planning to either build or renovate. (The New York Times reported that Amazon informed the winners that it wants 500,000 sf of office space available in 2019.)

But before any firms enter the fray, it’s worth remembering that Seattle-based NBBJ has designed a number of buildings for Amazon, including its Spheres glass domes in Seattle, for which Magnusson Klemencic Associates was the structural engineer.

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