Crisscrossing the streets of the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods during lunch hour on Thursday, Amazon employees faced dozens of choices between restaurants, cafes, bars, food trucks and banana stands where they could eat. Such is life on and around the urban campus of the Seattle tech giant.
After news broke that Amazon is planning to build a second North American headquarters, in a city to be determined, Amazonians were asked about another potential choice. The company said the $5 billion plan for a campus mirroring Seattle’s, with 50,000 high-paying jobs, could be open to employees as an option for eventual relocation.
So GeekWire hit the street to find out what employees thought. And because the company is notoriously strict about almost anyone talking about anything, we didn’t ask for the names of the people we spoke to. Trust us: they all wore the ubiquitous badges and admitted to being Amazonians.
A program manager who has been at the company for just two months said he was “sort of” from Seattle. “I’ve been here since college — been here a while now.”
He said it would depend where the new HQ lands to determine whether he’d be interested in leaving Seattle.
“As long as it’s a cool new spot I wouldn’t be opposed to it. Chicago might be pretty rough because it’s so cold. It’s gotta be a good outdoor area, like this for lifestyle. Denver would be cool. Austin would be cool.
“East Coast [makes sense] I would think, just logistically. If you’re gonna have a second HQ you’d want to have it on the opposite side of the country so you diversify a little bit, I guess. It’s such a global company now, it’s not just synonymous with Seattle. Granted we’re headquartered here, but I used to work at Boeing and they moved to Chicago and people were up in arms about it, but you get over it. As long as there’s jobs here and there’s jobs elsewhere. I think the millennials are a little bit more mobile and if another job picks up elsewhere — same opportunity, same salary, that sort of thing — I wouldn’t see people being opposed to that that are already in the company.”
A technical project manager for AWS said he’s been with Amazon for 4 1/2 years. “I’m one of the old guys here,” he laughed, adding that he grew up in Seattle and, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“To me, whatever city it is is going to have to get the business taxes subsidized. It’s going to be great for another city to have another 50,000 people. You saw Boeing leave Seattle, so that could be part of it — the whole taxes. A lot of companies don’t like the state of Washington’s tax laws and what not. I think that’s going to be a major player in whoever gets it, whoever does the business taxes better.
“I feel like Austin has the tech background. It has the small city feel. I think it’d be cool to have it in Austin. I also heard Toronto and Raleigh, North Carolina.”
A quality assurance engineer who has been in Seattle for almost 4 years, almost all of them at Amazon, couldn’t wrap his head around the prospect of another campus with the same jobs and same pay in another location.
“I’m happy in Seattle,” he said.
When we rattled off the names of a dozen other cities including Boston, Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and others who might make a bid for the tech giant, he said, “The Seahawks are here.”
A Southern California native who moved to Seattle two years ago to work at Amazon paused while walking his dog (are other cities this dog friendly?) to say he would consider leaving his new city, and that only the work keeps him in Seattle.
“I don’t like the weather here. My dream is to move back to Southern California some day. If they opened it in Southern California, I would go in a heartbeat. They already have an office in Irvine, but the work in Seattle is just more interesting to me, so I stay here. But if interesting work were to move there, I would move as well.”
The worker, who is part of a team trying to get the Amazon Go convenience store concept up and running and out of beta phase, called the entire HQ2 announcement and plans “a big surprise.”
A native Seattleite who has been in the city her whole life has worked at Amazon for four years. She, too, was surprised by Thursday’s news.
“For me to move it would have to be Chicago,” she said, in a nod toward the Windy City’s aspirations. She called Seattle “a pretty laid back place to live” and leaving for a city that she doesn’t know as well as her home would be “a hard adjustment.”
A recruiter who has been at the company for a little over a year chuckled at the thought of hiring 50,000 people in another location.
“In my future I’d be open to it,” she said about leaving. “Change of location … but everything remains the same,” she added, gesturing at her employer’s buildings all around the South Lake Union neighborhood where she grabbed lunch from a food truck.
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When asked what she thought Amazon was looking for by announcing these plans, her one-word answer hit home for those who have witnessed the company’s rapid growth in Seattle’s urban core: “Space.”
Two engineers with four years and three years at Amazon were hurrying back to work after lunch. Again, a list of other cities fell on mostly blank stares.
“Boston was cool, I went there for like, one day,” one of the women said. “I don’t know if I’d live there, I’m just saying it’s a cool city!”
They said they liked the culture and the weather in Seattle. Anything else?