I’m not a professional oddsmaker, but Amazon’s announcement today that it has chosen 20 cities — yes, 20! — to proceed to the next round of its lucrative second headquarters got me thinking: Who really has the best shot at landing this potential $5 billion economic prize?
I went through a similar exercise when Amazon first announced its plans for HQ2 — a second headquarters that would rival its sprawling 40,000-plus employee operation in Seattle. My top picks at the time: Toronto, Boston, Austin, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta.
Now, I was not surprised to learn that each of my original picks made it into Amazon’s finalist list.
But my logic has changed a bit since I first published my top contenders. I’ve also noticed some interesting patterns in the 20 cities selected — more than half (11 cities, if you include Atlanta and Pittsburgh) are on the East Coast, playing into a theory that the tech juggernaut wants a home in the Eastern time zone. Two cities in the no-income-tax state of Texas — Austin and Dallas — made it into the finalist list (and I think both have a good shot).
Only one West Coast city — L.A. — is in the top 20, and I think it’s a longshot for the HQ2 crown given that Amazon seems to be creating a new adage here: “Go East, young man!“
In fact, the list shows a concentration of three contenders around Washington D.C. — Northern Virginia, Montgomery County (located between Baltimore and D.C.) and Washington, D.C. Clues there? I think so, as it could play into Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ more public persona, including his purchase of a new home in D.C. and his ownership of the Washington Post.
Noticeably absent from the list? The feel-good comeback city of Detroit. If Amazon goes with a Rust Belt City, our money is squarely on the Steel City of Pittsburgh, which has a burgeoning tech economy, a top-notch computer science program at Carnegie Mellon University and also is home to GeekWire’s very own HQ2 effort. (Yes, our trendsetting editorial team will be arriving in Pittsburgh in February to cover the rebirth in this re-emerging city).
Without further ado, here’s my personal ranking of the top 20. Note: No computer algorithms were used to create this ranking, just the human brain. These are ranked from least likely to top favorite.
20. Los Angeles: Traffic and the tax structure sucks, and while Amazon is growing its presence in the movie and entertainment business in a big way, I just don’t think you’ll see HQ2 in Hollywood.
19. Columbus: My home state will roll out massive tax breaks and old-fashioned Midwestern charm, but that’s not enough to win this prize. I can speak from experience that Columbus is a pain in the ass to travel to from Seattle. Ouch. And while The Ohio State University is a bedrock of the community, it’s no MIT or Carnegie Mellon. Cleveland and Cincinnati are more interesting cities anyway. BTW, Go Bucks!
18. Indianapolis: Like Columbus, just a bit more bland.
17. Denver: A transportation hub and a favorite destination for ski bums, Denver is just too similar to Seattle. Amazon wants diversity in geography, so it can recruit top minds from the East Coast.
16. Miami: I don’t even see a “Buff Bezos” hanging on the sands of South Beach. Known more for Pina Coladas than coders.
15: Nashville: It might have the Grand Ole Opry House, but odds are against Music City U.S.A. for attracting Amazon’s next home. Too far out of the way, and not a destination for engineering talent, which is really the lifeblood of Amazon’s decision.
14: Chicago: This Midwestern paradise lost me when they formed a 600-person committee to lure Amazon. Too much process, and politics. Central location and big airports help, as does a nice elevated train network. But it’s hundreds of miles from any outdoor escapes. You’ve still got Old Style, Chicago dogs and one homegrown Seattle corporate titan: Boeing. Isn’t that good enough?
13: Newark: Springsteen, Sinatra and Bon Jovi will not be able to serenade HQ2. I’ve been to New Jersey, I have friends from New Jersey, Mr. Amazon, you are not New Jersey.
12: New York: The Big Apple is, well, just too big (and expensive). I’ve never understood New York’s allure as a tech hub. Is it really a place where anti-social coders and geeks want to hang out? Welcoming a barrage of New York-style harassment.
11. Toronto: Once my top pick for Amazon HQ2, this Canadian jewel of a city on the banks of Lake Ontario has tech talent, a welcoming immigration stance, friendly folks and a new alliance with Google’s Alphabet. That sealed Toronto’s fate. Today’s forecast also doesn’t help: 21 degrees and light snow. Hey, at least you won the Major League Soccer Cup in 2017.
10: Raleigh: A dark horse with a strong lineup of tech companies and research universities, Raleigh ranked high in our own GeekWire HQ2 competition, finishing just behind Pittsburgh. There are direct flights between Seattle and Raleigh, but I just wonder if it’s just too small, too low profile. North Carolina’s stance on the controversial “Bathroom Bill” does not help matters.
9: Atlanta: They barely made my original top six list, and I still think Atlanta is on the cusp. Georgia Tech certainly helps, as does a mild climate. Certainly, a transportation hub, but for whatever reason I just don’t think HQ2 is in the cards for Hotlanta.
8: Dallas: There are enough engineers in Texas that Amazon could probably fulfill its desired 50,000 employee count just from this massive land mass. Plus, the Lone Star state’s independent and rebel streak will appeal to Bezos, who also owns tons of property in West Texas. Let’s face it, Bezos is the ultimate rebel cowboy!
7: Philadelphia: My mom’s top pick, and she’s got some good points. Centrally located between Boston and D.C., without the cost or attitude of its East Coast neighbors, the City of Brotherly Love will lovingly welcome these 50,000 jobs to one of its many redevelopment projects, including a former Navy Yard. Undergoing a Rocky Balboa-style comeback, Philly’s rebirth is real, and they’ve got a desire to play in the big leagues. Plus, they have the Philly Phanatic!
6. Pittsburgh: If it’s good enough for GeekWire HQ2, it’s good enough for Amazon! Undergoing a serious rebirth with tons of expertise in AI and robotics, an especially compelling area of technology. A dark horse contender, and it doesn’t hurt that some of Amazon’s senior management team have strong Yinzer ties.
5. Boston: It’s hard to argue with Beantown’s many assets: Engineering talent, top research universities and a desire to reclaim some of its tech mojo from the 1970s and 1980s. There’s a reason why Amazon is already investing in a huge way in Boston. The question remains: Will it continue?
4. Austin: There are so many reasons why Austin makes sense. A progressive city in a no-income tax state, with tons of engineering talent flowing from the University of Texas and some older tech companies that Amazon can decimate upon its arrival. We’ve also heard there’s a pretty good music scene happening there! And, just in case you forgot: Amazon spent a cool $13.7 billion consuming Austin-based Whole Foods. Is there more to come in Austin? Note: Also, see rationale on Dallas.
3, 2, 1: Washington D.C., Montgomery County and Northern Virginia: The greater D.C. area did not make my original short list, but it does now. It meets many of Amazon’s requirements: transportation hub, outdoor activities, culture, tech talent base, etc. (Traffic does suck, though). It’s curious that Amazon separated three nearby communities (all within a 50-mile radius) in the list, perhaps signaling a competitive bake off between the three. Bezos owns The Washington Post, and he just bought a $23 million home in D.C., yet another sign of the tech mogul planting serious roots in the nation’s capital. Also, some have argued that Bezos — who quietly built an empire hiding in the rain-soaked shadows of Seattle — will need to elevate his persona as Amazon enters its next chapter. We’ve already seen this with the tech billionaire showing up at places like the Golden Globes, but D.C. is where real political and economic action happens. Amazon will land somewhere within 50 miles of D.C., and Bezos will move there on a full-time basis. You heard it here first!
So, there you have it. Tell me where I’m right, and where I’m wrong. Where do you think Amazon will land?