Amazon’s HQ2 has become a Super Bowl of sorts, with prognosticators, odds and, eventually, a winner. And Washington seems to be as prime a contender as one could be in a season that’s less than a week old.
Since Amazon announced Sept. 7 it is seeking to build a second headquarters to complement its 8.1 million-square-foot Seattle campus, Washington has been frequently mentioned as a qualified candidate for the $5 billion investment. The New York Times has Washington as a top finalist (but Denver will ultimately win the headquarters, it predicts).
Urbanist Richard Florida, co-founder of CityLab, predicts D.C. will win, tweeting “my gut tells me Amazon will pick D.C.” due to its walkability, transit and the fact that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns both The Washington Post and a mansion in Kalorama.
“I think D.C. has shed its image as a government town,” Florida told me in an email. “The fact that Washington, D.C., is at the top of nearly every urbanism and economist shortlist tells me something very significant about the change in the city’s imaging brand. “
Image alone won’t win the Amazon sweepstakes, and Greater Washington may very well lose the competition. But being a highlighted potential destination, even if not chosen, could prove advantageous for D.C. and its surrounding tech-friendly suburbs rich with available square footage.
“Being in the discussion provides a platform for economic development officials, mayors and other officials to make the case why their city or state is open for business,” said John Boyd, a principal of The Boyd Co., a New Jersey site selection firm. “You can benefit from being the bridesmaid. The site visits often result in positive relationships with lawmakers and economic development officials.”
Boyd worked with General Electric on a headquarters site search 18 months ago. GE chose Boston’s Seaport District, but runners-up Atlanta and Providence, Rhode Island did earn further investment from GE soon after.
Boyd’s HQ2 short list? D.C. (including Fairfax and Montgomery counties), Atlanta, Boston and central New Jersey.
Salah Hassan, professor of branding and marketing at George Washington University’s School of Business, said the Washington area’s image as a corporate hub recently earned a boost when Nestle USA chose Rosslyn for its new headquarters. The company will relocate 700 jobs from Glendale, California, to Virginia, where it will take up more than 200,000 square feet at 1812 N. Moore St. Yelp also announced last month it will open a significant hub near Capital One Arena. Both received millions in local incentives, which Amazon said it is looking for as part of its deal.
The chatter about Washington as a headquarters option will pay off whether Amazon chooses D.C. or not, said Hassan.
“The fact that it’s is a viable choice speaks a lot to how D.C. has changed the last 25 years,” he said. “It has positioned itself from government to a place of innovation.”
Washington is, after all, “The Swamp” these days and in need of draining, as some politicians say. But it also offers the quality of life, amenities and distractions that tech company workers seek — and they can even generally afford the D.C. area’s high cost of living, second only to New York City and San Francisco, Fuller said.
“We are always going to be a company town, that is one of our advantages,” Fuller said. “That it is so dominant is the downside. This helps our brand, especially at a time when the brand of Washington is being so regularly degraded by the political environment.”