Tap the brakes for a second, North America. Let that sea of red tail lights on the roadways around Seattle serve as a warning from those of us who have lived here for some time — big, giant tech companies in the heart of your city can change things.
As governors and mayors and business leaders across the continent wake up to the news of Amazon’s plan to build a second headquarters outside of Seattle, accommodating up to 50,000 high-paying jobs, they should be careful not to fall all over themselves jumping at the opportunity to be first in line.
RELATED: From Hartford to St. Louis, job-hungry cities line up to convince Amazon they’re the best spot for second HQ
Folks in cities that have been decimated by the long drain of manufacturing jobs and who feel the sting of being left out of the modern tech boom will have a hard time seeing past that 50,000 number and thinking anything negative could come from such a prospect.
And to be certain, a whole lot of good has come to the Seattle region for being lucky enough to be the place where Jeff Bezos had a garage and an idea for selling books online.
Jobs are great. And Amazon has created many thousands of them of all stripes.
And because Amazon is here, and Microsoft before it, many other tech companies large and small have set up shop in Seattle to feed off the talent that was either nurtured in Seattle or moved here to be a part of it.
And for many there is pride in knowing what is being created and to be the home of a company so diverse that it can get a gift to your mother across the country in a day or a bag of groceries on your kitchen counter is less than an hour.
The same company behind the voice-activated AI who will answer your every question also makes TV shows and movies that win Emmys and Oscars. Meanwhile, Bezos is building huge glass spheres in the heart of the city so his employees can work amongst exotic plants at the same time he’s building rockets that could someday send tourists into space.
But Seattle is a tough nut. The stereotypically gloomy weather can often be matched by the mood of the people who live here when it comes to change and outsiders. And man, have things changed.
Every old house or building that comes down gives way to another hole in the ground and a crane in the sky (we have more than any city in the U.S.) and then a shiny new box or towering office building. Every neighborhood in the city seems to be feeling the effects, bulldozing toward growth and prosperity, changing the look and feel of the place in an instant.
And driving in and out of those neighborhoods and buildings is the endless stream of cars, clogging roadways that were never intended to handle such a load. As Seattle races against the clock to build a mass transit system worthy of servicing such a rapidly growing population, other cities chasing Amazon for HQ2 had better be way ahead in that game.
High-paying tech jobs also have a funny way of leading to higher real estate costs. Taking a cue from Silicon Valley and the out-of-this-world housing costs in the Bay Area, Seattle is now the nation’s hottest housing market, with year-over-year price increases over 12 percent.
High demand and low inventory creates bidding wars and animosity among those who can’t even afford a starter home in the city they grew up in.
And the rent is too damn high, too. Workers who don’t wear tech badges for a living are forced to look outside the city and thus contend with the traffic coming in and out of it, creating a vicious cycle and affordability crisis.
Juxtaposed against the bustling nature of Amazon’s rise in downtown Seattle and nearby South Lake Union is a homelessness epidemic spread beneath highway overpasses, in RVs everywhere and throughout city parks that leads people to blame one for the other.
Change is hard. Rapid change is harder.
Reaction in Seattle to Amazon’s shocking news Thursday morning has ranged from heartbreak that the city’s biggest tech employer is eyeing other locations to outright joy that the brakes will be pumped on our booming city.
No matter where you land on that debate, no one in their right mind in Seattle should want to see Amazon disappear.
The fact that the company is even lobbying other cities for the chance to attract a huge chunk of its future growth should serve as a major warning to government leaders in Seattle and Washington state. And to those of us who moan about the Mercer Mess or the old tavern that is now a hip restaurant.
Just think about it for a second, is all we’re advising.
Whatever it is you love about wherever you live, it’s not going to be the same if your city manages to convince Amazon that it’s better than all the rest of the suitors.