When Amazon announced Thursday that it was seeking a second North-American headquarters that would be worth nearly $5 billion, local Washington business advocates jumped into overdrive:
“This is the Olympics of economic development,” says Jim Dinegar, President of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “The greater Washington region would be tremendous for Amazon and Amazon would be tremendous for greater Washington,” he added.
Amazon’s announcement solicited bids from communities with more than 1 million people who “think big” and to Mr. Dinegar, the connection was obvious:
Amazon’s current headquarters in Seattle benefits from an urban, amenity rich city that attracts skilled and specialized workers – particularly millennials.
Washington could fit a similar profile in more ways than just its name, with its collection of museums, restaurants, and general quality of living – not to mention the prestige that comes from having a headquarters in the Capitol region.
According to Stephen Fuller, a professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, the economic impacts of possessing such a facility would be massive:
“The wage impact of that operation would be significant, it would be on the order of $250 million in disposable income, but its much bigger than that.” Fuller says.
He cites not just to obvious employment and wage benefits to the D.C. region, but also the immense opportunities that will come to vendors and others who would service such a facility.
The Capitol region is already home to several HQ’s for other multinational corporations, notably Nestle, Hilton, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Mars, as well as others.
Yet this would be an extremely high profile chance to diversify the D.C. economic “image” – one that has been intrinsically connected to the Federal Government since its inception.
While many cities around the country will be vying for such a huge economic opportunity, Fuller speculates that an East Coast location has a significant advantage as the time zone provides a key advantage when coordinating with European counterparts.
That’s not to say that D.C. is the perfect fit, however.
Housing prices are exceedingly high, with the second highest renters market in the county – only behind San Francisco. To house 50,000 workers in an already strained market could prove to be a real challenge.
Additionally, the D.C. region has its characteristic fragmentation to worry about. Dinegar explains:
“If we cooperate across the state lines – Maryland, Virginia, the District – it will serve us very well going after this. If we compete across those state lines and fight with each other we don’t stand a chance.”
One need not look further than the current debacle as to where the Washington Redskins will build their new stadium to see that the three areas working as a unified bloc is easier said than done.
“Lets get them here,” Dinegar urges, “and once we get them here we can divy it up just fine.”
Amazon is expecting that its “HQ2” will be a “full equal” to their current headquarters, which has 33 buildings and 24 restaurants and cafes.
And with a hard deadline of October 19th to submit proposals, the infamously slow wheels of Washington may have to turn a bit faster to have a chance.