Amazon’s surprise announcement Thursday morning that it will begin searching for a second headquarters in North America will send political and civic leaders across the continent into a frenzied scramble to lure the fast-growing technology powerhouse.
But what cities actually have a chance to land Amazon’s “second home?”
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The company’s press release lays out a few details of what it’s looking for: metro areas with more than one million people; a “business-friendly” environment; a strong technical workforce; and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”
Here are six cities that immediately sprang to mind that would meet Amazon’s needs:
Toronto: This cosmopolitan city on the shores of Lake Ontario has long produced top technology talent, and that talent comes cheaper than most cities in the U.S. According to CBRE’s 2017 North American Scoring Tech Talent analysis, Toronto was ranked as the second best city for the quality and value of its technology workforce. (Just behind Vancouver).
Toronto also ranked first in terms of tech job growth, with 22,500 tech jobs added from 2015 to 2016. A Toronto outpost would give Amazon an East Coast presence, and it would allow the company to attract talent from around the globe in a way that bypasses the ongoing immigration fights plaguing the U.S. While Vancouver also is a possibility, it’s likely too close to Amazon’s Seattle hometown. Toronto checks a lot of boxes, and just wait until Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets engaged in this economic development gold mine. At a Microsoft Summit in Seattle earlier this year, Trudeau was already touting the benefits of tech investment in Canada.
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Boston: There’s a war for talent across the tech landscape, and perhaps no city produces as many top young minds in areas such as robotics, AI, computer vision, cloud computing as Boston. Beantown used to be one of the most important tech hubs on the planet, but through a series of mergers, relocations and just bad luck (remember, Facebook was started there but migrated to Silicon Valley shortly after it was founded) the home to the Red Sox and Patriots has lost air faster than a Tom Brady football. Now, none of the gang of five tech giants — Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Microsoft — call Boston home. Amazon already has a growing footprint in Boston, and earlier this year it announced plans to add another 900 jobs at offices near General Electric’s headquarters. We expect Boston to be a serious East Coast contender for Amazon.
Austin: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has deep roots in Texas, where family ancestors operated a massive ranch, and his Blue Origin space venture launches rockets. We expect multiple cities in the Lone Star state to make a bid for Amazon, but Austin seems like the best fit. It’s home to the University of Texas, which means Amazon could mine the Longhorns for top talent. It’s also an impressive tech center (with companies such as Dell, HomeAway and RackSpace) and a desirable place to live. More than 68,000 people worked in Austin’s burgeoning tech economy in 2016, including more than 25,000 in software development. And don’t forget that Amazon just bought a little grocery chain based in Austin for $13.7 billion. Perhaps Whole Foods could form the basis of “HQ2” — as Amazon is calling its second corporate campus. Update: An astute GeekWire reader noted that Amazon may choose another state, like Washington, that does not have an income tax which would make it attractive for people transferring out of Seattle and new talent. Texas — along with Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming — does not have an income tax.
Pittsburgh: This one-time steel town is re-inventing itself as an important technology hub, largely on the back of the pioneering work at Carnegie Mellon University. The city sits at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, and while it is much smaller than other contenders on this list, we think Amazon will take a look at the second biggest city in Pennsylvania (It would not surprise us if it looked at Philadelphia for that matter, too). The revitalization efforts in the one-time blue collar city have attracted a bevy of tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Uber and others. More than 42,000 people now work in Pittsburgh’s growing tech sector (including more than 12,000 in software development), a growth rate of 24 percent from 2011 to 2016. A rust belt city on the rebound, Pittsburgh would work hard to attract Amazon, perhaps dangling massive incentives and attractive real estate options in front of the company. Pittsburgh’s lower cost of living would also hold appeal, though it would be a harder sale for many Amazon workers (and execs) who hail from bigger cities to relocate there. Even so, don’t count out Steel City, and Amazon’s penchant for unusual and out-of-the-box thinking.
Chicago: The Windy City already poached one Seattle area corporate titan when Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001. Could it happen again? A big city, with big ambitions to grow its tech credibility, Chicago already employs over 143,000 people in its tech sector, including 44,000 in software engineering and development. It does not boast an MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University of Toronto or University of Texas, but Chicago’s cosmopolitan appeal, welcoming culture and central location could serve it well as a contender for Amazon’s second headquarters. Amazon plans to have more than 8,000 employees working in Illinois by the end of next year (most in fulfillment centers), and the state has shown a history of doling out massive tax incentives to lure the company. A transportation hub, Chicago could be a relatively easy commute from Seattle.
Atlanta: I originally was not going to put Atlanta on the short list, but then I started thinking about the number one thing Amazon wants: Tech talent. And tech talent without high-cost rivals competing for the workers. Home to Georgia Tech and 133,000 tech workers, Atlanta will certainly be in the conversation. Like Chicago, Atlanta also serves as a transportation hub, which will likely be a key component in any decision made by Bezos and crew.
Listen to more analysis of the news and where the new headquarters could go below:
So, there you have it. Our picks for cities that Amazon will consider for its second headquarters. Cities you won’t find on our list: New York (too expensive, too big); San Francisco (too expensive, too close to Seattle); and Cleveland (Sorry to my Buckeye comrades, it’s still Cleveland!).
If I were to rank my picks in terms of most likely to attract Amazon, here’s how I’d stack them up.
Where do you think Amazon will end up?
More special coverage of Amazon’s plans to establish a second headquarters:
- Be careful what you wish for, Amazon suitors, a lot will change with the tech giant in your city
- Cities jump at the chance to be judged by Amazon for HQ2 — and the internet judges those cities
- Even as Amazon seeks a second HQ, rumors point to four big new Seattle office leases for tech giant
- Amazonians on the street react to prospect of a second HQ, discuss staying in Seattle and leaving