Amazon’s plan for a second North American headquarters, and its public call for proposals from interested cities, has the makings of an Olympics-like search process. But unlike the Olympics, which can cost cities a fortune to run and—in some cases—cripple a city after it leaves, Amazon’s second headquarters has the potential to transform a city and impact its economy for generations.
Amazon said it will invest over $5 billion in the new facility, resulting in 50,000 jobs. The tech giant said its HQ2 will be a “full equal” to its Seattle campus, which currently takes up more than 8 million square feet with 33 office buildings and 24 restaurants and coffee shops. Amazon estimates that it has resulted in an additional $38 billion to Seattle’s economy from 2010 to 2016.
“This is the trophy deal of the decade as far as I can tell,” Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonpartisan research group that tracks economic development, told the New York Times. “What governor or mayor doesn’t want to stand on a stage with Jeff Bezos to announce a deal like this?”
And of course, Chicago is interested.
City officials told Chicago Inno yesterday that Chicago plans to make a formal bid, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already personally been in touch with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about the project.
The bidding war will be fierce. But now, roughly 24 hours after the announcement, some say Chicago is indeed a top contender to land the project.
Analyzing Amazon’s criteria for the project, CNBC crunched the numbers (based on job growth, labor force, universities, mass transit and airports) and said Chicago is a top 3 city to win HQ2, along with New York and Atlanta. Axios took a similar approach, and put Chicago in its top 5 cities likely to land the project. CBS, Geekwire, and Amazon’s hometown newspaper The Seattle Times all have Chicago on their short list.
And while we may only be a day removed from Amazon’s public announcement, the city has known about Amazon’s plans for over a week, a source told Chicago Inno, and officials have been working on their proposal ever since.
But let’s dive a little deeper into what Amazon is looking for exactly in a city of HQ2, and see how Chicago stacks up.
Amazon says it’s looking for:
- Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
- Check (Chicago has 2.7 million people)
- Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
- Check (Chicago has strong university talent that could fill the high-tech jobs Amazon is looking for)
- Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options
- Check (There are several city sites that could house Amazon’s Chicago campus, not to mention Amazon could also set up shop just outside the city in a neighboring suburb)
- A stable and business-friendly environment
- Hmmm OK this one may be tricky.
Cash-strapped Illinois may not be able to pay Amazon the type of incentives that other states could, but an expert told CBS that subsidies may not be as important to Amazon as other factors. “…all the incentives in the world won’t make the wrong location right,” Bruce Maus, a logistical consultant, told the news outlet.
And Chicago’s other assets could be enough to persuade Amazon. A world-class transportation system, two major airports (making for a simple commute from Seattle), a lower cost of living, a vibrant downtown-restaurant-nightlife scene, a growing tech scene and top-tier universities all could help make Chicago a logical choice for Amazon, in this humble reporter’s opinion. Not to mention, Chicago has a mayor that is dead set on landing corporate relocations, and scoring Amazon is certainly a major priority for Emanuel.
Amazon’s promise of 50,000 jobs isn’t about adding low-skill factory jobs. Amazon says these are high-paying jobs that have an average annual total compensation of more than $100,000. Amazon will be hiring thousands and thousands of engineers and other high-tech workers, and it’s a facility that could change the face of a city’s technology and startup ecosystem. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around often, and one that Chicago desperately doesn’t want to miss.