There was a lot of hand-wringing last week in Seattle after Amazon dropped the bombshell that it plans to spend upwards of $5 billion on a new corporate campus in North America.
But don’t look for the online retailer and tech powerhouse to abandon its hometown of Seattle. At least those are the words of someone who knows the company better than most.
“Amazon will keep growing in Seattle,” said Madrona Venture Group’s Tom Alberg, the Seattle venture capitalist who has served on the company’s board since its early days as a small online book seller. “It’s not going to stop in the short term, or medium term at least, and look at all these other companies that are growing.”
Alberg made the comments on Tuesday afternoon at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference, a meeting in Seattle this week that’s trying to forge stronger bonds between tech and civic leaders in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.
The remarks were some of the first from the Amazon hierarchy since the company announced its plans last week to find a “second home” that would house up to 50,000 workers. Amazon executives have not commented publicly since the company asked other cities to bid on its second headquarters, operating under the codename HQ2.
As a strong civic leader and an Amazon board member, Alberg is in a unique position to help build bridges between Seattle and the company that’s reshaping the city.
And, as far as Alberg sees it, there’s no reason to worry that Amazon will sever ties with Seattle. Recent reporting by GeekWire indicates that Amazon is still gobbling up sizable chunks of real estate in the city, even expanding its footprint to Bellevue.
Amazon employs about 40,000 workers in the Seattle area, making it one of the region’s biggest employers. The growth spurt has accelerated in recent years as Amazon ambitiously expanded into areas such as entertainment, groceries, video games and more. With its acquisition of Whole Foods and its planned second headquarters, Amazon is well on its way to employing more than 500,000 workers.
Here are more remarks from Alberg, who was responding to an audience member’s question about Amazon’s second headquarters.
“Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, we had a big emphasis on how do we get companies to move to Seattle. The state government has always spent a lot of money on it, not very successfully. And, lo and behold, all of these companies moved on their own. And now, really the big need is importing talent, not companies…. Seattle will continue to have a huge need to import talent.”
In the panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman said that Amazon’s decision was inevitable and he was surprised they did not do it earlier. “I think for Amazon just to scale, it needs another place in North America,” said Kelman, noting that Seattle is “really divided” right now but it’s not as bad as Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
“The main problem is we have become a victim of our own success; the cost of labor has gone through the roof,” Kelman said. “Even if you can pay, the sheer ability to hire that many people in this region and house those people has strained the region.”
Later in the discussion, panelists talked about the possibility that Vancouver, B.C. could be a nice second home for Amazon, creating even stronger Cascadia ties between the two cities. Kelman responded that “we should win it for the Northwest,” which prompted Alberg to note: “Get to work on the application.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire reporter Nat Levy contributed to this report.