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The view from inside Amazon HQ1 in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon’s astounding decision to establish a second and equal corporate headquarters outside of Seattle simultaneously made the company an object of desire and scorn as cities were suddenly pitted against one another for the $5 billion prize.

And while the 20 candidates that made Amazon’s HQ2 short list Thursday are likely celebrating, the decision to publicly narrow the field isn’t going to assuage any concerns that Amazon is staging its own Hunger Games, and using cities in need of economic development as the contestants.

These 20 cities will advance to the next phase of Amazon’s HQ2 contest. (Amazon Image)

The ongoing public spectacle probably won’t have a huge impact on New York or Chicago but how far might Columbus or Raleigh go to court the tech giant, knowing they’re up against the nation’s biggest and richest cities? They will use whatever they have in their arsenal to compete because the prize is too tempting to pass up, whatever the cost.

Amazon says it will ultimately employ as many as 50,000 people earning an average salary of more than $100,000, with a capital outlay of more than $5 billion to fully establish the new headquarters. That will undeniably infuse the winning city with economic vitality, but with the cities now pitted against each other, the price tag could keep going up.

In September, Amazon released a request for proposals listing instructions for cities to apply for HQ2 and a list of preferences for the location. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was the “mastermind” behind holding a public contest for HQ2, according to the New York Times. The RFP mentions “incentives” 21 times.

“Incentives offered by the state/province and local communities to offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors in the decision-making process,” the RFP says.

That request put HQ2 on comedian John Oliver’s radar: “that could mean billions of tax dollars that would not be collected for things like roads or schools or hospitals and Amazon already has more money than it knows what to do with,” he said during his show “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver wasn’t the first to sound alarm bells over one of the most powerful tech companies in the world pressuring local governments to serve up financial incentives.

“In an age where cities and states are starved for resources, often times these efforts at economic development, the costs of tax breaks for the city, will far outweigh whatever benefits come from the number of jobs created,” Margaret O’Mara, a University of Washington professor specializing in urban history, told GeekWire this past September.

However, 238 cities believe what Amazon has to offer is different — and it very well may be. The company has taken off like one of Bezos’ Blue Origin rocketships in Seattle, growing to occupy 8 million square feet of office space and employ more than 40,000. Amazon’s insatiable appetite for growth is a driving factor behind its search for a second home.

Amazon says it will use the next few months to “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate the company’s hiring plans as well as benefit its employees and the local community.” The company plans to make its decision sometime in 2018. It did not say whether there will be another elimination round.

Meanwhile, today’s announcement will likely ignite some backlash for the implicit message it sends to cities: “What more can you do for me? How badly do you want HQ2?”

Continue reading for the list of 20 cities advancing in Amazon’s HQ2 contest. 

– Atlanta, GA

– Austin, TX

– Boston, MA

– Chicago, IL

– Columbus, OH

– Dallas, TX

– Denver, CO

– Indianapolis, IN

– Los Angeles, CA

– Miami, FL

– Montgomery County, MD

– Nashville, TN

– Newark, NJ

– New York City, NY

– Northern Virginia, VA

– Philadelphia, PA

– Pittsburgh, PA

– Raleigh, NC

– Toronto, ON

– Washington D.C.

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