What Amazon’s HQ2 Shortlist Tells Us About Modern Cities

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The race to land Amazon’s second headquarters, or HQ2, has become one of the largest economic development opportunities in a generation — a truly transformative opportunity for the chosen city that ultimately wins the competition. And a competition it has become, with creative and inventive ideas pitched from mayors and economic development officials throughout the country.

Today, we learned that a ‘short list’ of 20 cities has been chosen—moving the selection process forward—toward the day sometime later in 2018 where the new headquarters city will be chosen.

The twenty finalists were winnowed down from 238 — demonstrating the intense interest in the project — and they include a wide swath of North American cities: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County (Maryland), Nashville, Newark, New York, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

From this list, a few things are immediately apparent. The Eastern time zone is quite represented, with Central and Mountain close behind and the West Coast only including one city. The Washington, D.C., region includes three of the 20 finalists — the District itself, Montgomery County and Northern Virginia. And only one city outside of the U.S., Toronto, made the cut as a finalist.

When the final city is selected, Amazon plans to make an investment of more than $5 billion before HQ2 opens. Furthermore, those jobs are expected to be high-paying positions — with salaries of at least $100,000 annually. In full, economic impact will make the selection hard for any city to resist.

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Amazon’s original RFP also highlighted numerous business and quality-of-life criteria — including transit, workforce readiness, business environment, a strong university community, and airport linkages. Ultimately, though, it’s not just a story of Amazon picking a city out of a hat. Each of the 20 finalist cities also chose to make a serious, involved bid for Amazon.

The final selection for HQ2 will bring numerous benefits with it, but concerns have also been raised around displacement and gentrification. The rise of Amazon in Seattle has come with higher housing prices and concerns over the city’s culture and infrastructure. At the same time, more and more cities are working assiduously to ensure that their economic development initiatives infuse equity into decision making.

For both Amazon and the winning final city, this could be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate inclusive economic development. A positive, well-received partnership between Amazon and its HQ2 host could serve as a powerful influence for tech-centric economic development.

For now, though, the competition continues. With the list down to 20, the city Amazon chooses for HQ2 will forever be changed by this new corporate partner in their community.

About the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the senior executive director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.