Executives from King and Snohomish County revealed details of their plan to convince Amazon to locate its second North American headquarters in Washington state Thursday. The proposal will include a list of locations in cities and tribal lands across the two counties but none of the proposed sites will be in Seattle proper, Amazon’s first home.
Amazon shocked city and state officials in its hometown with the announcement that the company will establish a second corporate headquarters in another North American city. The surprise news left the offices of the mayor and governor scrambling to respond. But in the weeks that followed, Washington lawmakers caught their breath and got organized, pledging to come up with a coordinated, regional response to the RFP.
“Amazon’s announcement was a surprise,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said during a media briefing Thursday. “Personally, I hope it knocks some people out of their complacency.”
The regional proposal will suggest sites in Arlington, Bellevue, Bothell, Everett, Kenmore, Renton, Lynnwood, Tukwila, and the Tulalip Tribes. The locations will be presented as a series of different options for Amazon HQ2 but Constantine said it will also offer the opportunity to expand to multiple sites.
Amazon is soliciting incentives from cities responding to the request for proposals for HQ2. In the Seattle regional proposal, those could include faster permitting for development and worker training grants. As for Amazon’s controversial preference for tax incentives?
“Each city, of course, will have the opportunity to provide a particular package of opportunities and incentives,” Constantine said Thursday. “As you well know, we have a prohibition on what’s called gifted public funds in the state of Washington so unlike some other states, we cannot simply provide cash subsidies to companies in order to come here.”
Amazon’s HQ2 surprise announcement in early September immediately ignited speculation that the company has outgrown Seattle and is seeking a more welcoming city for its second headquarters.
“The negative attitude of many citizens and of our government to business in general and to Amazon, in particular, has created an environment for Amazon and, even more importantly its employees, that is unpredictable and outright hostile,” said Heather Redman, Chair of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, when news of Amazon’s plans broke.
Seattle’s attitude may or may not have played a role in Amazon’s quest for HQ2, but it’s certainly not the only motivating factor. The second facility gives Amazon an option to mine a new talent pool, offer two different locations for new hires, and opens up additional real estate options for the company to grow. Amazon is planning to create a campus of up to 8 million square feet of office space to house up to 50,000 employees — a bit ambitious for the company’s already cramped hometown.
For those reasons, the Seattle regional pitch may end up being largely symbolic. It’s unlikely that Amazon will give up the advantages of establishing HQ2 in another region, especially now that its RFP process has become such a big public spectacle.
“Clearly, if Amazon, for business reasons, thinks that they need to diversify geographically, we have an uphill battle on our hands,” Constantine said. “On the other hand, we have one very strong card to play which is that we are already the home to Amazon, and not just to buildings, but to their valued personnel who’ve made this place their home.”
But even a symbolic proposal could be a boon for economic development in the Seattle area. It shows that government officials still welcome one of the region’s top employers and sends a message to other tech companies about doing business in Seattle.
“This is not only about Amazon … we have been working together to identify a way forward where we can put a single face on this region when we’re addressing the world,” Constantine said. “This is one exercise that’s very consistent with that but it’s really an exercise that’s laying the groundwork for a lot of future success for us as a region.”
The regional proposal may have a slim chance but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Amazon did include a big concession statement in its RFP, as Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers noted during the media briefing Thursday.
“The RFP mentions that they may decide not to do Headquarters 2, so our argument is that you can grow here,” he said. “If you want a new campus — what’s generally termed a greenfield — we have those opportunities with new housing and good transportation, high-capacity internet, all the things that you need … Amazon really left the door open to a very wide range of possibilities.”
Amazon is planning to spend $5 billion on the new campus. The company will hire new teams and executives and let existing senior leaders choose between the original headquarters and the new location. Amazon currently occupies 8 million square feet of office space across 33 buildings in Seattle, mainly in the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods and it is still growing in its hometown. The company employs about 380,000 worldwide.