Seattle has gone through the full spectrum of emotion in the wake of Amazon’s surprise announcement that it will open a second North American headquarters. The mayor seemed shocked, as did Washington’s governor. Business leaders went straight to mea culpa, blaming Seattle’s hostility to the company. Some longtime residents said good riddance. Others cautioned bidding cities: Be careful what you wish for.
The news has raised tough questions for Seattle about the cost of economic growth and the danger of alienating big job creators.
It led Vox’s Matthew Yglesias to write, “Seattleites, reflecting a paucity of ambition that has become endemic to coastal American cities, have convinced themselves that their city is somehow tapped out of potential growth,” in a piece imploring Seattle to make a pitch to Amazon.
We talked to civic leaders about the likelihood of the tech giant’s hometown answering the Request for Proposals and what it might mean as a symbolic gesture.
Heather Redman, incoming chair of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, suggested Seattle respond to Amazon’s RFP and try to convince the company to invest more in its hometown. “It’s never too late to say we’re sorry,” she said.
But despite calls from the business community, a Seattle proposal seemed unlikely at the outset, even if the city government was running like clockwork. And after the events of this week, it’s even more of a pipedream.
Mayor Ed Murray resigned on Tuesday amid an ongoing and disturbing sexual abuse scandal, the allegations of which he continues to deny. On Wednesday, City Council President Bruce Harrell was sworn in as mayor, though it’s unclear whether he’ll continue to hold that office until the November election when either Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon will take the seat.
In statements, both candidates pledged to invest in education to ensure a pipeline of talent for companies like Amazon and to work with the city’s big employers to address issues related to transit and affordability. Moon took a harder line, however, adding “We’ve seen with Boeing how a bidding war over billions in tax breaks for corporations only helped the wealthy few while doing nothing to keep good paying jobs here. I’m not interested in playing that game if Amazon isn’t serious about helping to pay for the impacts of their rapid growth on our city.”
With so much turmoil at City Hall, it’s hard to imagine submitting a proposal to Amazon is high on Seattle’s priority list, particularly because it would be more of a symbolic gesture than an actual plea for Amazon to double its presence in the city.
That brings us to another reason a Seattle proposal is unlikely: Amazon’s insatiable appetite for growth. Amazon’s second headquarters will eventually be up to 8 million square feet, accommodating some 50,000 employees. That’s a tall order for Seattle, which is already struggling to keep up with its booming population, driven in large part by tech industry growth.
A Seattle pitch could also step on the toes of other Washington cities making a play for Amazon’s HQ2. The City of Tacoma and Snohomish County are both planning to submit their own proposals.
“It is a priority to ensure that Amazon stays, grows, and thrives in our city, state, and region,” said Rebecca Lovell, acting director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. “We are currently working diligently to coordinate across multiple counties and Washington State’s Department of Commerce in support of the best regional response.”
Even if Seattle did submit a proposal, its improbable that Amazon would abandon its plan to establish a second headquarters outside its hometown. Improbable, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Buried at the end of the RFP, Amazon says it “may select one or more proposals and negotiate with the parties submitting such proposals before making an award decision, or it may select no proposals and enter into no agreement.”