Amazon is staffing up in these HQ2 finalist cities as second headquarters decision nears

It has been a year since Amazon surprised and captivated the world by announcing plans to open a second headquarters equal to the first. The news made quite a racket, with hundreds of cities jumping at the chance to land Amazon HQ2, thousands of news stories about the extraordinary competition, and endless speculation about where the $5 billion campus will end up.

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One year later, it’s all quiet, at least publicly, on the Amazon HQ2 front. Representatives of many cities still in the running say the tech giant hasn’t been dropping any obvious hints, and Amazon officials aren’t commenting on what’s next in the process.

But behind the scenes, Amazon is staffing up satellite offices around the world and expanding existing operations in cities contending for HQ2. In many of those areas, Amazon already has a presence, and it’s adding jobs in some places faster than others.

A GeekWire analysis of Amazon job posts, using data provided by a third-party firm, found that of the HQ2 finalists, offices in the Washington D.C. area had the most open positions over the past few months. That includes three of the 20 finalists: D.C. proper, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland. From May through July, Amazon had an average of about 841 open positions across those three areas combined. That trails only the company’s hometown of Seattle, and Silicon Valley (which is not an HQ2 finalist).

Taken at face value, Amazon’s push in the D.C. area doesn’t mean the region is a shoo-in for HQ2. But it does suggest that Amazon sees the region as a talent pool teeming with possibilities. Access to talent is among the chief considerations for Amazon’s second headquarters.

RELATED: Is Washington, D.C., worthy of Amazon HQ2? We tested the nation’s capital to find out

Amazon’s thirst for talent in D.C. and Northern Virginia adds weight to speculation that the nation’s capital is a frontrunner for HQ2. The region’s chances started to look a lot stronger when Amazon winnowed the field of more than 200 applicants down to 20 cities back in January.

With three finalists, the D.C./Virginia/Maryland region has the highest statistical chance of winning. If Amazon has already zeroed in on the region, it could position the three jurisdictions to compete against one another with incentives packages and other offerings.

A small portion of one of Washington, D.C.’s proposed Amazon HQ2 sites, along the Anacostia River near the Washington Nationals Park and Audi Field, the new DC United stadium. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

GeekWire found that other East Coast favorites like Boston and New York are next in terms of most open positions, with two Texas locations — Dallas and Austin, the home of Whole Foods Market — sporting plenty of activity as well.

The number of open positions in many of the most active markets fell over the three-month period. It is unclear if the drop is due to positions being filled or a general slowdown in hiring, as detailed by CFO Brian Olsavsky after the company’s most recent earnings report.

Amazon has grown in markets across North America in recent years, with 18 tech centers outside of its hometown of Seattle that employ a combined 17,500 people. HQ1 in Seattle is home to about 45,000 of Amazon’s global workforce of more than 575,000 people.

Choosing one of the D.C.-area locations would also bring Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos closer to The Washington Post, which he bought for $250 million in 2013. Bezos already owns a 27,000-square-foot home in D.C.

Herndon, a town of 23,000 people in Fairfax County, right next to Dulles Airport, has the most openings among several Virginia offices. Many of them are for Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud division.

AWS announced a year ago that it planned to build a new campus in Northern Virginia that would create up to 1,500 new jobs. At the time, the Virginia governor’s office said Amazon employed more than 7,000 people in Northern Virginia.

AWS has opened data centers around the world since the service launched in 2006, but it is believed to rely on U.S. East data centers for a lot of its service. The importance of those data centers came to light in 2017 when an outage there took down big chunks of the internet.

Cranes reach for the sky on Amazon’s campus north of downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Back home, Amazon’s relationship with Seattle has been a bit rocky. But that isn’t stopping the company from aggressively growing in its hometown. All of the HQ2 finalists combined had an average of about 2,900 open positions from May to July, a figure that pales in comparison to the 6,800 open positions in the Seattle area.

“Our understanding is that Amazon recognized some of the challenges that came about with their success in Seattle, those symptoms of economic growth,” said Sam Bailey, vice president of development for Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, which is leading Denver’s Amazon HQ2 bid.

“They wanted to make sure that any community that they would locate in, Amazon could be more of a solution to some of those challenges, such as housing, mass transit, homelessness, and workforce development,” Bailey said.

Amazon has been expanding more aggressively throughout the East Coast in recent months. In May, the Amazon confirmed plans to hire 2,000 workers in Boston, which would triple its team in that city. Just under a year ago, the tech giant announced plans to hire 2,000 people in New York, which will more than double its workforce there.

In the Boston offices, a big chunk of the 493 average job openings over the last few months fall under the umbrella of the tech giant’s digital brain, Alexa, while AWS and devices also have a solid representation. Plus, Boston will be home to the new Amazon-JPMorgan-Berkshire Hathaway health venture.

Amazon had an average of 466 open positions in New York from May through July, with a big chunk of them for AWS. Advertising, Amazon’s newest multi-billion dollar business, makes up a big chunk of hiring in New York, as does fashion, another area where the company is making a big push.

Among them, Virginia/D.C., New York, and Boston have about a 25 percent shot of landing HQ2 based on the number of locations. But even if the prized second headquarters lands elsewhere, it’s clear that these areas will remain in Amazon’s long-term plans.

Earlier this year, Amazon requested additional information from each of the cities vying for HQ2 and sent officials on site visits to scope out possible locations for the project. City officials say that since then, they haven’t heard much from Amazon.

“Everybody’s anxious to know one way or the other,” said Steve Schoeny, director of economic development for Columbus. “It’s been a good process for us to go through and we learned a lot from the process in and of itself but [we’re] just interested to figure out what’s going to happen going forward.”

Amazon has said the winner of the HQ2 competition will be announced by the end of the year. Typically, the company makes big announcements right before the holiday shopping season begins, which means HQ2 could be revealed in a matter of weeks.