A cloud hung over the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s 135th meeting on an otherwise unseasonably sunny Thursday in Seattle — a cloud by the name of Amazon.
Nearly every speaker, including new Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess, addressed Amazon’s plans to establish a second corporate headquarters outside its hometown, and the tune was universally conciliatory.
We caught up with Burgess to discuss Seattle’s plans to respond to Amazon’s request for proposals before he took the stage.
“This is a real opportunity,” he said in an interview with GeekWire. “It’s a little wake-up call that allows us to have a more unified regional approach to economic stability and growth, regardless of what Amazon decides going forward. We’ll take this as an opportunity to focus on that regional response.”
The news that Amazon is planning to establish a second “fully equal” headquarters for up to 50,000 employees came as a shock to lawmakers and business leaders in its hometown.
“Who knew a month ago that two letters and a number, HQ2, would be on the lips of every executive and mayor and dog catcher on the continent? It’s remarkable,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine on stage at the event. “Amazon’s announcement was a call to action to do our best work, a reminder that we need to close ranks, and put aside parochial interests and small thinking and do what’s right for workers and employers across our region and our state.”
Seattle Chamber CEO Maud Daudon echoed Constantine’s sentiments in her remarks.
“I was really sad to see so many, in the days following the announcement, saying, ‘We’ve had enough. Let’s take a breather. Let them move on.’ I can’t tell you how differently I feel about that,” she said. “This announcement should serve as a wakeup call for this city. We can’t take our prosperity for granted.”
Of course, Daudon is representing Seattle’s business community which is sometimes at odds with the rest of the city. As GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser notes, Amazon’s relationship with Seattle is complicated for a reason.
Still, Seattle is participating in a regional response to Amazon’s RFP, which could include a proposed site in the city proper or one of its neighboring communities. We asked Burgess whether the Seattle effort is symbolic or a realistic play to keep the facility in Amazon’s backyard.
“I can’t read their minds so I don’t know that but we are going to make a concerted effort to persuade them that this region is a good region for them,” he said. “If they choose Bellevue or Tacoma or Everett or even Spokane, Seattle still wins and our region remains strong. That’s going to be our focus, how do we make sure that Amazon not only realizes that this is a great region for them but that they’re willing to stay and we’ll make our best shot.”
As far as Daudon is concerned, “there’s no place like home to build HQ2,” but she added,” win or lose on HQ2, we are committed to having an incredibly growing and thriving HQ1 so let’s do that, minimally.”
The Seattle Chamber is working with Seattle and King County to scout locations to propose for Amazon’s second headquarters. The e-commerce giant is looking for a facility that can eventually accommodate 8 million square feet of office space.
The likelihood of Amazon choosing to double its presence in Seattle seems low given the high-profile and public request for proposals. But even if Seattle doesn’t win, responding to the RFP could help the city repair its fraught relationship with Amazon.
“It’s really important that city government make it very clear that we respect, admire, and welcome employers,” Burgess said. “We want to create jobs in our city and it’s very important that we stay closely aligned to our business community so that we’re strategically headed in the right direction.”