Like the overlooked heroine in an ’80s teen movie, Tacoma is writing a love letter to Amazon. It says, in effect, “Don’t worry about feeling rejected by your first crush. I’ve been here waiting for you all along.”
Tacoma is planning to submit a proposal to convince Amazon to set up its second headquarters close to home, though it will probably be written on municipal letterhead, rather than flowery stationery. Amazon is outgrowing its hometown of Seattle, and Tacoma hopes that by offering more room to expand and a short commute to the original headquarters, it can beat out Amazon’s other suitors.
Ricardo Noguera, Tacoma’s economic development director, confirmed his office is working on a response to Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP) in an interview with GeekWire Monday.
“We have property in the heart of downtown which connects very well with the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus that we plan to include,” he said. “We have light rail that runs right by the site that will make it very inviting and not require workers for the future campus to drive a car. We have over 2,000 (housing) units that are going to be developed in our greater downtown area within the next 18 months so that will create an environment where, unlike what you see in South Lake Union, that is very clustered, this will be stretched out maybe within a half mile to mile radius and I believe that we also have the talent here, with several universities and colleges.”
The initial site Tacoma is proposing is two-to-three acres of undeveloped land, with views of Commencement Bay, Noguera says. It has room for 300,000-400,000 square feet of office space. Tacoma’s proposal will include additional locations to accommodate Amazon’s big appetite for space. The company requires an initial 500,000 square feet and eventually could need up to 8,000,000, according to the RFP.
Tacoma will face steep competition for Amazon HQ2. Cities across the continent began lusting after Amazon almost immediately after the company announced it plans to open a second, “fully equal” headquarters in North America
Closer to home, there are several Seattle neighbors vying for Amazon HQ2, which will employ up to 50,000 with an average salary of $100,000 annually, according to the RFP. In an email, Everett. Wash., economic development executive director Lanie McMullin told GeekWire that the city is planning to participate in a broader Snohomish County proposal. We’ve asked for additional details and will update this story when we hear back.
Noguera also said that it’s possible Tacoma will partner with other nearby communities on a proposal.
Tacoma checks several of the boxes on Amazon’s wishlist. Amazon is looking for a region with a population of one million or more. The Tacoma-Lakewood metropolitan area has a population of 843,954, according to Census Reporter. That doesn’t include the millions living in the nearby Seattle, Bellevue, and Olympia metro areas.
Amazon prefers “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” Tacoma is growing quickly, driven in part by spillover from neighboring Seattle.
The RFP says, “A highly educated labor pool is critical and a strong university system is required.” As Noguera noted, Tacoma is home to several universities. In Tacoma proper, 28 percent of residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, according to Census Reporter. In the broader Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area, that number is about 41 percent.
“We have the talent,” Noguera said. “We have the workforce and there are several folks from Tacoma, Pierce County that are commuting to Seattle at the Amazon campus as we speak. We are continuing to build the public infrastructure, the transportation to support workers who would prefer not to drive. Our Link light rail is expanding. We have easy access to Seattle through PS Transit and through The Sounder. The city, downtown is also pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. We have an environment where restaurants, retail, amenities are available within short walking distance.”
But if Amazon were to choose the girl next door, it would eliminate some of the advantages that come from sowing its wild oats a little farther from home. Amazon would be accessing virtually the same labor pool that it currently has access to in Seattle. It wouldn’t be able to give employees a choice between headquarters in different locations on other sides of the country. Amazon wouldn’t have easy access to other tech hubs around the country and the company couldn’t benefit from having one headquarters outside the U.S.
Still, Noguera remains hopeful that Tacoma can win Amazon’s heart.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I think Tacoma, South Sound area offers a second campus opportunity for Amazon and I’ll tell you, from Amazon’s standpoint, this is an opportunity for Amazon to share with other corporations across the country how they can play a lead role in revitalizing cities.”