When Amazon coined the term “HQ2” and announced plans to open a second North American headquarters, the company promised it would be the “full equal” to its Seattle home base, with 50,000 high-paying jobs and executive leadership spread across the two locations.
But after the company decided to split the second headquarters between Northern Virginia and New York, and then drop New York entirely, Amazon’s plans for its second headquarters thousands of miles from Seattle have become much more modest.
In the meantime, Amazon has been growing quickly in Bellevue, Wash., a city that didn’t even compete for HQ2. And now the tech giant’s ambitions in the Seattle-area city are even more clear.
Amazon announced Thursday morning that it will expand to 15,000 employees in Bellevue in the next few years. It’s the latest sign that the city, 10 miles from Seattle, is Amazon’s real second headquarters, or at least the second HQ2. The company’s employee base in Bellevue has grown from almost nothing to 2,000 employees in a little more than two years. That’s still smaller than the 10,000 corporate employees Amazon has in San Francisco and on par with the company’s 2,000-person team in Vancouver, B.C. But depending on the rate of growth in each tech hub, Bellevue could overtake those offices in the next few years.
By comparison, there are about 400 Amazon employees working at the new Arlington headquarters and an additional 10,000 across Virginia. Amazon plans to expand to 25,000 employees in Virginia over the next decade. Still, that is just half of the 50,000 employees Amazon promised to plant at its new headquarters when the company launched its HQ2 search.
If Amazon continues to grow beyond its 15,000-person target in Bellevue, it’s conceivable that Arlington won’t even catch up to Bellevue’s size, given the trajectories.
Amazon started to make its plans in Bellevue apparent last year, when GeekWire learned the company would relocate its critical worldwide operations team from Seattle to Bellevue, resulting in the migration of thousands of employees by 2021. That move includes worldwide operations head Dave Clark, a member of Amazon’s senior leadership team, a.k.a. S-Team.
No members of the S-Team have relocated from Seattle to Northern Virginia, though Amazon’s government affairs chief, Jay Carney, has always been located in the D.C. area.
Amazon’s largest office tower yet will be the centerpiece of the Bellevue campus, and a symbol of the investment the company is making in its new home. Amazon bought 600 Bellevue for $195 million last year. The company showed off the latest rendering of the tower as part of Thursday’s announcement.
The announcement Thursday is the first time Amazon has quantified its future headcount plans for Bellevue. The company attributed its Bellevue expansion to a partnership with the city and the “business-friendly” environment it offers.
That sentiment is in stark contrast with past comments Amazon has made about Seattle’s government. The company threatened to slow its growth in Seattle amid a bitter dispute over a proposed business tax in 2018, citing the City Council’s “hostile” attitude toward business.
The so-called head tax would have raised money to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis by taxing large companies on a per-employee basis. Amazon and others called for a different tax structure and regional response to the crisis. Their wish appears to be coming true. Washington state lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would allow King County — home to Seattle and Bellevue — to tax part of the payroll at companies that offer high salaries to employees. The funds would go toward mitigating the housing and homelessness crisis in the region.
Amazon, Microsoft, and others are backing the tax but the business community would prefer the legislation preclude cities, like Seattle, from passing their own taxes. It’s one of several signs that animosity between Amazon and its hometown lingers in the wake of the head tax battle. Last year, Amazon gave up one of its high profile leases of the last decade, putting the Rainier Square building on the sub-lease market.