03 Mar

Amazon Thirsty Thursdays: Atlanta, Boston, and Northern Virginia

Image via Amazon.

Welcome back to Amazon Thirsty Thursdays, a semi-regular feature in which one city, state, mayor, or other entity with a vested interest in the bidding process for Amazon’s second headquarters is named the “thirstiest.” Last week’s winner: local news website ARLNow, which mined its internal analytics to deduce that Amazon employees took particular interest in a months-old article about Arlington winning some prize for environmentally friendly buildings. Reading tea leaves is fun. Here are this week’s contenders for the title of most desperate for Amazon’s vaunted HQ2 project.

Atlanta

After a week out of contention, A-Town is back in the mix, mostly thanks to Georgia legislators spilling their Coke over non-tech-related policies that could blow their otherwise strong chances of nabbing HQ2. Despite more material that should make bookies more confident in its chances—a new Zillow survey of economists and housing experts concludes Amazon will go to either there or Northern Virginia—Atlanta’s on the verge of choking yet again. On Thursday, the Georgia Senate made good on its threat to cut a fuel-tax exemption for Delta Air Lines because Delta ended its discount for National Rifle Association members following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Legislators are also on the verge of passing a bill that would allow adoption agencies to reject gay couples. But what do guns and adoption have to do with Amazon? The online retail giant, the thinking goes, might dislike culture wars more than it likes huge government incentives.

“It signals to Amazon that politicians in Georgia are more concerned about scoring points with constituents sympathetic to a particular social view than they are about whatever business or economic rationale they may have to direct benefits to a specific firm,” Brian Richter, a professor at the University of Texas’s business school, told CNN. Meanwhile, CNBC pointed out how the adoption bill would go against Amazon’s reputation as a progressive workplace (for its non-warehouse workers) and language in the HQ2 project’s request for proposals that the company seeks a “the presence and support of a diverse population.”

Cincinnati

True, Cincinnati was one of 218 bidders that didn’t make it to the bakeoff. But few things say thirst quite like publicly praising someone who dumped you, which is exactly what economic development officials representing Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and Dayton, Ohio did this week. “At the end of the day, their feedback was that talent was the most important factor out of everything they looked at,” Ed Loyd, a spokesman for the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which submitted Cincinnati’s bid, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. But Amazon apparently delivered the news gently; the meeting was described as “encouraging and complimentary” with a few kind words about recent revitalization projects along the Ohio River. Johnna Reeder, REDI’s president, was even more fulsome about getting Amazon’s bad news, calling it the “best let-down meeting I ever had.” So maybe Cincinnati will take up a new regimen, lure in some more tech workers, and look really good when it’s time for HQ3.

Boston

The thing about Amazon-related tea leaves is that they’re everywhere. And a lot of them just of them turned up in Boston this week, when city records revealed that Amazon is currently negotiating a lease for a new, 18-story office tower that’ll hold at least 2,000 workers when it opens, and possibly twice that many by 2025. Officially, the deal is unrelated to HQ2; Amazon already has a significant presence around Boston, with 1,200 employees who work on cloud computing and the Alexa voice-activation platform. But is it that unrelated? “Is all this growth a sign Boston will take gold in the race for HQ2?” the Boston Globe asks. “Or is it more likely that the company is preparing to award the city a silver medal?”

The latter is certainly plausible. Maybe Amazon is just beefing up one of its remote operations while the big prize goes to someplace more deserving, like New York or somewhere in the Washington area. But we do know Bostonians want HQ2. A poll last month found that 71 percent of the city’s residents—the same people who chased the Olympics out of town—support chasing a project that would cost billions in public funds. And even though the 2,000 new jobs aren’t tied to HQ2, we see this tweet from Mayor Marty Walsh:

Amazon’s new project is a tremendous vote of confidence in Boston’s economy, and we’ll be working with Amazon to make their plan for up to 2,000 new jobs a reality. https://t.co/kpaIw903WU

— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) February 28, 2018

Northern Virginia

Last week’s champion, ARLNow, secures a last-minute entry for its target audience with an article wondering whether Arlington County’s 2014 decision to scrap a proposed streetcar project had the long-tailed effect of doinking its chances at scoring the Amazon project. It’s quite the question, considering no one pleading to save the streetcar at the time knew Amazon would one day look to build a 50,000-person campus. Still, “several insiders,” ARLNow spoke with in the transportation and economic-development fields told the website the present-day lack of trolley could be detrimental to Northern Virginia’s prospects in the 20-way HQ2 contest. Will Amazon, which funds a streetcar program in Seattle, still consider Arlington even if its employees can’t ride a heavily subsidized throwback to 1950s transportation modes? The world will soon find out!

Winner: Boston
I’m so sorry. GIF via the National Football League.

Cities that didn’t make the final 20 are never going to win, even if Cincinnati took its rejection like a champ. And the streetcar gambit is cute, though not enough for ARLNow to surrender the crown to the more broadly defined Northern Virginia. Really, this week came down to Atlanta and Boston, and damn it, Atlanta blew another 28-3 lead. Just two weeks ago, Atlanta’s prospects for HQ2 had both a wonky analysis strongly suggesting Amazon could land there, and an endorsement from Quavo of the rap group Migos. But now? Georgia politicians pushing legislation that restricts people’s rights to adopt children and punishes companies for dropping the NRA are doing in Atlanta’s chances while a drowned-out few scream “Amazon! Amazon!” in the background. Meanwhile, Boston’s cleaning up. Even if that office-tower lease has nothing to do with HQ2, its one more inroad with Amazon in a place that’s highly unlikely to pass laws that strip away civil rights or force companies into bed with the gun lobby. And for that, Boston is the thirstiest Amazon bidder of the week. Enjoy these Dunkin’ Donuts Keurig cups.

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