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Which North American city will get the chance to play host to Amazon and 50,000 tech workers in a second headquarters? We heard a few theories around the holiday table (Amazon Photo)

Plenty of families who gathered for the holidays probably had to deal with opposing viewpoints and spirited debate on a number of different topics: politics, sports, a new boyfriend’s hair. For GeekWire staffers who spread out across the Seattle area, the Northwest and the country, conversation invariably turned to tech and the guessing game around Seattle’s biggest employer.

“So where do you think Amazon will put its second headquarters?” was the eggnog-fueled subject worth considering from Ballard to Bothell, Coeur d’Alene to Los Angeles, and all the way back to Wooster, Ohio.

Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and a few relatives in between have been unable to avoid the national buzz about the tech giant’s search for an HQ2 outside of Seattle. And just like us, they all have theories about why this town or that city make the most sense.

For a brief moment, it beat griping about politics. So here’s a roundup of what some of us heard and what some of us didn’t as it applies to Amazon:

The city of Philadelphia. (Flickr Photo / Dave Rosenblum)

John Cook, Wooster, Ohio: It’s 11 degrees right now in this rural farming community that sits about an hour south of Cleveland, which means that our family has been locked inside through the holiday watching horrible football bowl games, eating too many Christmas cookies and playing endless games of Exploding Kittens.

We’ve also been discussing what city Amazon will pick for HQ2.

That’s right. Amazon’s planned second headquarters has sparked some animated, and interesting conversations about the Seattle tech juggernaut and its future plans.

To be clear, I did not initiate the first discussion in our family about HQ2, though many members of my family have been naturally interested in GeekWire’s own decision to pick Pittsburgh for our own HQ2 journalistic experiment.

Over a splendid egg casserole at my mother-in-law’s house, the topic of Amazon HQ2 popped up. Here’s what Cook family members had to say on the matter, showing just how far Amazon has worked its way into the consciousness of Middle America.

My mom — a former newspaper reporter at the Akron Beacon Journal — was adamant. “I think it’s Philadelphia,” she said, noting that the home of the Liberty Bell offers a lower cost East Coast alternative to cities such as Washington, D.C., Boston and New York.

“To me, it answers a lot of their questions,” said my mom, adding that Philly offers the “culture” of the East Coast, but without the “predominant” cultures of New York and D.C. She also added that Pennsylvania has a lot of colleges. “I think Philadelphia is dying for some sort of tech center, and they will attempt to get it right,” she said. She later added: “I really want Pittsburgh.”

My mom also doesn’t think Amazon will pick Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta or any other city in the Southeast.

“It is not going to go to the south, because the culture is wrong,” she said.

Seattle chalk artist John Rozich drew this map of the 238 regions to respond to Amazon’s HQ2 RFP. The mural is located in Amazon’s Day 1 tower. (Amazon Photo / Jordan Stead)

I asked my dad what he thought: “I’d just stay in Seattle,” he said.

Other family members speculated about Austin, Boston, Toronto and Chicago. Interestingly, one family member noted that no one had brought up Denver as a possibility, which prompted another family member to note that the location will “definitely” be on the East Coast, in part because of its proximity to Europe.

My 8-year-old son picked Dallas because he likes the Cowboys (and I personally think Texas has a really strong shot).

In a later conversation on a drive back from Starbucks with several family members, my nephew — who hails from Charlotte and loves statistics — said he did not have enough data to make an informed decision. “I have no clue. I’ve not analyzed it,” he said.

Finally, my wife — who thinks Amazon will head to Austin, home of Whole Foods — ended the HQ2 speculation conversation when she noted: “What are we going to win?”

The city of Pittsburgh. (Flickr Photo / David Ellis)

Kurt Schlosser, Ballard neighborhood, Seattle: A friend who is a longtime architect in Seattle stopped by on Christmas night. He spent some time in Pittsburgh in the late ’80s, where he studied at the University of Pittsburgh before eventually settling in Seattle about 17 years ago. We got on the subject of GeekWire’s plans for an HQ2 in the Steel City in February, and what we hope to find there as far as worthwhile stories.

He told me he was talking to a guy who works at Amazon (everybody knows someone) who said the buzz around the company’s Seattle campus when it comes to the tech giant’s future second home is focused on three cities. Pittsburgh is one of them, he said, adding that the other two are Austin, Texas, and Vancouver, B.C. That last one surprised me, as most talk in our offices has been around another Canadian city: Toronto.

He didn’t provide any extra insight about where these theories originated or how far up the corporate ladder they climbed, but it sparked a worthy back and forth about West Coast vs. East Coast options, proximity to Seattle, travel scenarios, and bars I need to visit when in Pittsburgh.

Coeur d'Alene
The city of Coeur, d’Alene, Idaho. (Flickr Photo / D. Taylor)

Todd Bishop, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: With my wife’s family, much of the HQ2 discussion was about Pittsburgh, largely because of all the Steelers gear I received for Christmas in anticipation of our own GeekWire HQ2 project.

My father-in-law did remind me of his pitch to put GeekWire HQ2 in Coeur d’Alene:

  • There is a really big lake
  • We are 100 miles from Canada — you can spot those guys they have health insurance but they do not have guns
  • There is a junior college and you can learn to be a welder
  • Some of us have computers
  • The mayor owns a restaurant
  • There are four ski resorts nearby
  • Bike paths everywhere
  • Ride our buses for free
  • The Uber guy drives a pick up

Maybe Amazon should take a second look at Northern Idaho, too.

The city of Chicago. (Flickr Photo / Franck Michel)

Monica Nickelsburg, San Diego: As an economist and scholar, my dad typically has the upper hand in analytic dinner conversation. But that hasn’t stopped me from arguing with him ever since I had the most basic command of language — and in this particular debate, I had months of up-close reporting in my arsenal. Naturally, I started by making the case for Pittsburgh. I’ve become partial to Steel City since we decided to plant GeekWire HQ2 there. Though an underdog, it has a strong pipeline of tech talent and is a hub for robotics and engineering. Of course, my dad pointed out that transportation in and out of Pittsburgh sucks; this conversation started because he was helping me find the best way to travel from there to New York.

He responded with his city of residence, Los Angeles, highlighting a trend I’ve seen emerge in discussions about Amazon HQ2. Most people are incredibly biased toward the city where they live. Growing up in Los Angeles, it wasn’t hard to poke holes in this pick. The city is a sprawling transportation nightmare and Amazon wants its employees to be able to get around quickly and efficiently. Plus, I told him I don’t expect Amazon will choose another West Coast city. We agreed Chicago’s chances are good. It has a world-class airport, several top universities, good public transportation and opens up access to talent. As my dad pointed out, Chicago is a much easier sell than Seattle when Amazon tries to recruit talent out of cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis.

Clare McGrane, Sammamish, Wash.: The tech talk around our table focused on my family’s new Harmon Invoke, with Microsoft’s Cortana built in. For her part, Cortana is keeping mum on her ideas about HQ2.

Taylor Soper, Portland: No Amazon HQ2 talk for us — there’s no way Amazon is coming to Portland. Pittsburgh was the main topic.

The city of Cincinnati. (Flickr Photo / Cathy)

Alan Boyle, Bellevue, Wash.: Amazon HQ2 didn’t come up around the Boyle dinner table, where our daughter the entomologist regaled us instead with tales of fig wasp sex. But during a Christmas phone call with my brother who lives in the Cincinnati area, he said city leaders still see themselves as contenders. It makes sense from their perspective, considering that Amazon is already building a $1.5 billion cargo air hub in the area.

But my brother should nevertheless steel himself for disappointment — like the disappointment he felt when I told him Cincinnati was being passed over in favor of Pittsburgh for GeekWire’s HQ2.

Tom Krazit, Portland: No combination of HQ2, wasp sex, or really anything tech related came up at our holiday dinner, thankfully.

Daniel Rossi, Phinney Ridge neighborhood, Seattle: We talked about Amazon … Prime. About buying things on Amazon. We’ve all become online shoppers, even for groceries and a lot of this year’s presents. But we didn’t talk about HQ2 or anything to do with Amazon as a company or its future. They didn’t care AT ALL about that. Just about buying that thing and getting it fast.

The city of Austin, Texas. (Flickr Photo / Stuart Seeger)

Cara Kuhlman, Bothell, Wash.: On Christmas Eve, I headed to the beautiful burbs to join some friends at their parents’ home along with a couple of other “transplants” — my boyfriend Andrew and our friend Marc. Five out of the eight folks around the table knew exactly what it meant when someone asked, “Where will Amazon go?”

The Lone Star state led the guesses but one was out of this world.

“Mars the planet,” said Andrew, “or Austin, Texas.”

The city of Atlanta. (Flickr Photo / Jack Kennard)

Mizan Howard, Columbia City neighborhood, Seattle: Although Ethiopians celebrate Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, the Wisconsinite half of our family gathered around for green-bean casserole and butter cream ham-rolls to debate economic and infrastructure incentives that make Atlanta Amazon’s desired HQ2 location. Georgia Tech is a top-ranked engineering university with a world-class supply chain and logistics program. Hartfield International Airport is arguably the most important commercial air hub in the United States, and also supports Amazon’s ambitions in air freight. Combine that with a great overall quality of life and relatively low cost of living that is on the opposite side of Seattle, and it makes for a logical choice for Jeff Bezos.

Frank Catalano, Magnolia neighborhood, Seattle: Even though my son’s girlfriend works at Amazon, we didn’t discuss Amazon or HQ2 at all. I had the impression Amazon staffers are tired of the speculation. Instead, our Christmas Eve dinner “industry chatter” was about another, perhaps less appreciated, tech giant of the region where my son also happens to work: Boeing.

Lisa Stiffler, Seattle: No Amazon talk on our front!

Nat Levy, Seattle: No Amazon chatter at the Levy household either.

If you gathered with friends and family near or far over the holiday and heard a great new theory — or just a recurring one — about where Amazon HQ2 might land, share it in the comments below. We’d love to know more about what folks inside and out of Seattle are thinking.

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