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5 U.S. cities Amazon should consider for HQ2

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Amazon sent Heartland cities scrambling on Thursday morning with the announcement that it is looking to secure a location for what it calls HQ2 — a second office in North America that the company claims will be “fully equal” to its Seattle headquarters, which employ more than 25,000 people. Amazon says that its second headquarters — HQ2 for short — will employ up to 50,000 people, and will cost around $5 billion to construct.

The move comes as the e-commerce giant has gone on a much-publicized hiring spree in 2017. In August, the company hosted an event called Amazon Jobs Day, where it invited people to apply in-person for one of 50,000 jobs at its fulfillment centers.

Amazon asks interested cities and metropolitan areas to fill out an RFP by October 19. In the RFP, the company says that the most important qualities it is looking for are:

  • Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
  • A stable and business-friendly environment
  • Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
  • Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

Real estate appears to be the biggest driving factor in Amazon’s decision to open a second headquarters in a different city — available office space in Seattle is running out, as the company is expected to have a footprint of 12 million square feet by 2022 in the city.

However, Amazon also asks applicants to include information about the transit options available in their communities, K-12 computer science programs, availability and cost of housing for employees, testimonials from other large companies who do business in the area, and of course, what incentives the city and/or state would be willing to provide to Amazon. The RFP also says that “travel time to an international airport with daily direct flights to Seattle, New York, San Francisco/Bay Area, and Washington, D.C.” — suggesting that Amazon has already ruled out the last three cities.

With these criteria in mind, among the U.S. contenders, here are some cities that Amazon should consider.

Austin

Austin would be a no-brainer, considering that the city is home to the headquarters of one of Amazon’s most-talked about acquisitions: Whole Foods. It’s a city that a number of other tech giants have hedged their bets on — it’s home to Apple’s largest research and development office outside of its Cupertino headquarters, while Facebook opened its first sales and online operations office outside of Palo Alto there in 2010. Additionally, Amazon would have close proximity to the University of Texas at Austin which has a highly-ranked engineering school.

Detroit

Five years ago, one out of every four office spaces in Downtown Detroit sat vacant. That number has improved as Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and his associates have snapped up office spaces in an effort to revitalize downtown. A report at the end of 2016 found that there’s still 13.3 million square feet of available office space in the greater downtown Detroit area — in the RFP, Amazon says that it will require up to 8 million square feet of office space by 2027. Detroit will likely be one of the few places where Amazon would have the opportunity to build a huge campus in the heart of a city, not on its outskirts — and would join companies like Twitter, and soon-to-be Microsoft and LinkedIn.

Pittsburgh

It’s no secret that automation will play a huge role in Amazon’s ability to get products to consumers quickly, and thus continue to dominate the market. Pittsburgh would put Amazon in a good place to recruit from Carnegie Mellon’s renowned school of computer science. Pittsburgh-based companies Amazon has acquired include Safbra Translation Solutions, a machine learning company that translates text from one language, and Shoefitr, the developer of 3D technology that allows a customer to scan his or shoe, so that Shoefitr can recommend sizes of other types of shoes that might fit.

Should Amazon place its second headquarters in Pittsburgh, it would be joining Apple, Facebook, Google, and Uber, who all have offices there. Most famously, Mayor Bill Peduto gave Uber the greenlight to start testing self-driving cars in the city in September 2016. Though that relationship has since soured, with Mayor Peduto saying in a January that the ride-sharing company “hasn’t held up its end of the bargain,” if Amazon wins over city officials, it could prove to be a fertile testing ground for new technology.

Columbus

Home to four metropolitan areas with populations larger than 1 million — Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton — there will likely be a number of city leaders in Ohio vying for Amazon’s attention. But Columbus is home to the third-largest university by enrollment in the U.S., Ohio State, will give Amazon access to a talent pipeline that can fill a number of roles. It’s also become quietly known as “America’s Test Market” for fast food companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s. Amazon chose Seattle as the place to open its first brick-and-mortar bookstore and its first Amazon Go grocery store so presumably, it’s also going to be looking for a location that will be receptive to test stores.

Salt Lake City

Just a two-hour flight from Seattle, Salt Lake City would make it easy to travel between the first and second headquarters. There’s plenty of startup talent to pull from — startups in the Salt Lake City metro area received around $632 million in venture capital funding in 2016. Additionally, some of the area’s biggest tech hits have come in the 1990s — like Omniture, founded in 1999 which was acquired by Adobe in 2009, and Ancestry.com, founded in 1986, and bought out for $1.6 billion in 2012. That means that the Salt Lake City area would likely give Amazon access to more senior-level engineers, who have experience beyond working for a young startup.

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