NEW YORK — Beginning in 2019, Amazon employees will be traveling between the company’s original Seattle home and its two new headquarters, in the New York and Washington D.C. regions.
This week, I got a preview of what those journeys will look like.
Sunday morning I took a nonstop flight from Seattle to Washington D.C. in anticipation of Amazon’s big reveal: the winning cities of its year-long second headquarters competition. (As GeekWire’s Frank Catalano reported, the competition between Delta and Alaska Airlines will intensify, as both carriers look to woo Amazon passengers with their direct flights to D.C., New York and Nashville, which will be getting a 5,000 person “Center of Excellence.”)
After two days in the Northern Virginia D.C. suburb that will become one of Amazon’s new headquarters, I headed up to Queens, New York to scope out the other location Amazon selected.
Here are four key takeaways from my week in Amazon’s future homes:
- Mobility was the ace in the hole for D.C. and New York. The flight from Seattle to D.C. took about five hours, depositing me in the nation’s capital in the early afternoon. Virginia officials are forming a new neighborhood, called National Landing, for Amazon, which includes parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Alexandria. The new neighborhood hugs Reagan National Airport and has Metro access that makes the trip to downtown D.C. quick and easy. That’s a trait that Amazon’s new home in Queens shares. The neighborhood, Long Island City, offers easy subway access to the other boroughs and John F. Kennedy Airport. Getting from one new HQ2 to the other is also a breeze. I took a three-hour train from Union Station in D.C. to Penn Station in New York and a half hour subway ride later, I made it to Long Island City in time to catch protestors rallying against their new neighbor.
- Amazon can expect a warmer welcome in Northern Virginia than Queens. Although many residents of Amazon’s new D.C.-area home have reservations about the impact the 25,000 newcomers will have on traffic, folks I spoke with were largely optimistic about the economic benefits of the deal. The region has high office vacancy due to an exodus of defense contractors and feels ready for growth. Long Island City residents, on the other hand, seem more resistant to their new neighbor and concerned about the billions of dollars in tax incentives it took to lure the company. The diverse, urban community brought up many of the concerns that Seattle residents have been raising about Amazon’s growth for years, where the company has mushroomed to more than 45,000 employees. Seattle’s socialist council member Kshama Sawant routinely attacks Amazon, and it appears there will continue to be push back in Queens, too. New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the Queens neighborhood that Amazon is moving into, said at a rally this week: “By the way, Amazon was coming here without all this money anyway.”
- This competition was about what cities can do for Amazon, not what Amazon can do for cities. There were 20 cities in the running for Amazon HQ2, including mid-sized metros like Pittsburgh and Austin. Had Amazon selected a town like that, it would have had an outsized impact on those communities and played a key role transforming them by bringing thousands of high-paying jobs. Instead, Amazon chose New York and D.C. — the nation’s seats of political and financial power. That shows that this competition was about locating in cities that can feed Amazon’s insatiable ambition. The company chose cities that already have diverse and booming industries, more likely to absorb the new Amazon outposts than become company towns.
- Amazon is moving into Trump territory. Interestingly, Amazon chose the two homes of President Donald Trump for its new headquarters. In Queens and Brooklyn, Fred Trump built the real estate empire that would fuel his son’s meteoric rise. Although Donald Trump retrains close ties to New York, D.C. is his new home. It’s notable because Trump has made Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos a frequent target during his presidency.
- Startup Incubator? Based on the views of Dan Primack of Axios and John Cook of GeekWire, don’t look for Amazon to spark a wave of new entrepreneurial energy in Queens or National Landing. It hasn’t really happened in Seattle, at least not yet. Some startup watchers in Seattle say it’s just a matter of time before entrepreneurial Amazon employees leave the mothership. Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman of Pioneer Square Labs said to give it time. “We are finding that Amazon is an incredibly powerful training ground for founders and entrepreneurs. A lot of people at Amazon control their own P&Ls and have broad product and technical responsibilities, all of which are important skills for company founders,” he said. “The stock has moved up and to the right for so long that it makes it hard to leave. But many people came to Amazon precisely because they are entrepreneurs and wanted to learn at the best entrepreneurial large company in the world. Eventually, they won’t be satisfied until they try it on their own.”