PITTSBURGH — This city of bridges may be a long-shot for Amazon’s second headquarters. But residents here would certainly welcome the tech giant to their home, with some conditions.
That was our takeaway as we spent our first day talking to residents in Pittsburgh, buzzing between historic neighborhoods such as Hazelwood, East Liberty, The Hill District, Oakland and Mount Washington. With trusty tour guides at the helm — Mark Power, director of marketing and communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science; Stephan Bontrager, communications director at Riverlife Pittsburgh; and photographer Elan Mizrahi — GeekWire’s team encountered plenty of Pittsburgh pride and openness.
An upbeat optimism reverberated throughout the city as residents spoke about Amazon’s consideration of the Steel City for its second headquarters. Most had heard of the Seattle tech giant’s grand HQ2 plan.
Pittsburgh is one of 20 finalists for Amazon’s $5 billion second headquarters, a unique economic development opportunity that could bring the winner up to 50,000 jobs and a newfound image as North America’s next great tech capital.
We arrived in Pittsburgh on an unseasonably warm and sunny late January day. A few ice chunks floated down the rivers, and snow mounds in parking lots slowly melted away. Pittsburghers — like the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil — appeared to be emerging from their ice-bound enclaves after a brutal cold snap, exploring the picturesque city with vigor and energy.
As we stopped at local neighborhoods and landmarks — including Heinz Field and the Duquesne Incline — we asked residents a very simple question: Would you want Amazon to locate its second headquarters in Pittsburgh?
Here’s what they said:
“Absolutely, no question. Pittsburgh is a great city for entrepreneurs to come to anyway, so it would do nothing but bring good to the city. I think it would be a great idea. It is already a fun city to come to, and it would create more jobs for the city as well. I think it should come here. They are already experimenting here with Uber and the self-driving cars, so I think bringing in (Amazon) would be cool, too.” — Joe Lofton, PR and communications professional who grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
“It is a hot topic. I have mixed feelings on it. Pittsburgh’s infrastructure is lacking, in terms of buses, water system, roads. There are a lot of things that more people would put a stress on. It could bring more taxes in the future, and that could help with that…. If it were a company of a smaller size, maybe that would be more helpful for the city, rather than something that is 50,000 people, because it is such a small city. And then you see, with Seattle, all of the rising prices. I already moved out of my neighborhood because my rent went up in Lawrenceville, hip Lawrenceville. So, I moved up a block a mile, so I could even buy a house. If Amazon comes in, I don’t think that is going to be possible for a lot of people who don’t have jobs like that.” — Kristina Nikiforova, who moved to Pittsburgh about six years ago from the New York area to attend grad school at University of Pittsburgh. She works as an environmental regulations consultant for a civil engineering company.
“We’ve seen a lot of gentrification, especially in this area (Bakery Square). We have seen a lot of people get pushed out down the road…. I don’t think (Amazon’s HQ2) would benefit the people of Pittsburgh, actually. I think a lot of people would move in from out of town, and I don’t know that it would be good for the people who currently live here.” — Emily Pontarelli, who moved to Pittsburgh six years ago and now works for the City of Pittsburgh’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission and lives in the Polish Hill neighborhood.
“I would like to see that. I like something new when it comes to the city. I want to see what it is all about. It needs something around here … it’s empty around here now.” — Raymond Hawkins, a 61-year-old who has lived in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood for most of his life.
“In theory, yes. I like the revenue and jobs they could bring, but I don’t want to give away too much tax credits to lure businesses here. We already have UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) who pays zero property tax on tons and tons of buildings here. I would like Amazon to provide jobs and stuff, but still provide tax revenue for a city that really needs it. It’d be good for Amazon, too. Great access to CMU, that’ll be a great recruiting spot. That’s our biggest draw — the universities.”— Greg Ripper, a Pittsburgh lifer who owns the Fuel & Fuddle restaurant.
“It think it would be great. Pittsburgh is so little, we don’t really have anything here. It would be awesome. It is too small, and everyone knows everyone. Maybe that would get us together as one. I think it would be awesome. I think we will get visitors more. Everything is getting torn down. In East Liberty, they knocked everything down and made like everything new over there… I think it would be nice.” — Micah Watson, a senior at Obama Academy and resident of Pittsburgh’s Hill District who hopes to study sports medicine.
“I would. But I don’t know how I feel about different states offering really big tax breaks for them to do so, because they are such a giant company. Is there a revenue balance between it? Otherwise, I think it’ll be really, really great for the area. We’d really like to see something like that. We definitely could use the jobs. And we definitely need an expansion with our technology base here…. I don’t know where they can go, at this point. Downtown Pittsburgh is really, really tight. This area (Bakery Square) could be developed a lot further. … It’s just a matter of what they’d be able to do. Anywhere within 15 miles of where we are now would be a really good place.” — Sam Fuchs, an industrial designer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
“Personally, I think Amazon coming into Pittsburgh would be absolutely wonderful for the city. You’ve got people who are out of jobs, and stores that are laying people off and giving them severance pay for four, five six months, that aren’t going to have a job, and if you’ve got 50,000 jobs coming into the city, that would be awesome. Kmart and Sears and Macy’s, and there’s several others that have closed up, and these guys are without a job now. Anything coming into the city of Pittsburgh is beneficial to us.Because Amazon is huge right now, and everybody that you talk to buys from Amazon. They’re cheaper, they’re more expedient with their deliveries. That’s the way it is, the economy has moved up to that kind of a business. Everybody goes to Amazon. Not everybody is going to be qualified for that job, but out of those 50,000 there’s gotta be at least half or two thirds of them that are qualified that have done basically the same kind of thing in a store or a business, and the ones that are qualified, they can learn. There’s places to learn. I’d love it if they came here. More business for the city — it’s excellent for the city.” — Ed O’Neill, Uber driver, Pittsburgh native and 70-year resident.
“It’s going to be amazing. Think about it — 50,000 jobs. The city is renovating a lot — it’s a transition from a blue collar city back in the 70s and 80s and now it’s becoming a technology hub. We have Google, Uber, CMU. Then, if you bring Amazon, it will just boost this city in terms of technology. It will help this city develop itself and continue to grow and go through this transition smoothly. It would make a huge difference. Real estate will develop a lot; infrastructure is going to be needed.” — Ezequiel Aguiar, who works in mining for Alcoa and considered a job at Amazon in Seattle before moving to Pittsburgh six months ago from Houston.
“It depends where it will open. Usually people want to live close to where they are working. Amazon has young, skilled people who would like to live in a nice area where they can enjoy the weather and have a walkable area, which we have here, but today it’s a little tough to find a space or a spot. They have to think about it. I think that [it would be] very positive for this city and that people are very open for this new investment.” — Melba Lima, an information technology worker who moved to Pittsburgh from Houston six months ago.