Although the immediacy of the Amazon HQ2 decision is behind us, the economic development world will continue to learn lessons from Amazon’s site selection process in the months and years to come.
It’s not clear at what point in the process Amazon decided to split its HQ2 project between two areas. Considering the economic profile of the winners, New York and Virginia, and the fact that both winning regions had the largest number of existing Amazon employees outside of HQ1 Seattle, it would appear Amazon’s 14-month odyssey for the perfect location may have had some clear frontrunners that weren’t prominently advertised as such.
This leads one to wonder if all of those middle-tier cities really had a shot in the first place. Logic would appear to say no. In fact, one writer for the Boston Globe observed in its own town’s losing bid that even Boston may have lacked the human capital bandwidth that Amazon was demanding.
New York and metro Washington are full of smart people and home to emerging tech economies. They are also expensive, crowded, and complicated places to do business. Boston is all of those things, too. So why did Amazon pick New York and D.C.? Frankly, they’re just bigger. They have more people to hire, more companies to tap, more access to corporate titans and government decision-makers, more international flights. When you’re one of the largest companies in the world, size matters.
If Boston wasn’t big enough, what chances did cities like Austin and Nashville really have?
From commentary in the Chicago Tribune to the Indianapolis Business Journal to the Denver Post, Tim Cook and Katie Culp call for these cities to retrospectively ask the hard questions in order to improve their chances the next time they’re up to bat for a project of this caliber: What are the business, societal, and cultural cues you are sending to the companies and smart, talented, diverse people it seeks to attract? Which of these signals are attracting prospective residents and corporate decision-makers? Perhaps more importantly, which are deterring them?