A former colleague of mine was recently offered a job with Amazon in Seattle. Needless to say, they were very excited, but after doing a little more research they realized that even though the pay was decent, Seattle's housing stock was a mess. Shortage of houses and apartments have lead to a spike in home prices. Those that are affordable are tear downs or are a 1+ hour commute to downtown. This friend coming from NYC realized there was $0 cost of living benefit moving to Seattle and would actually be making less when factoring in commuting time.
After rejecting the offer and keeping the lines of communication open for future possibilities, amazon announced the intention to build Amazon HQ2… interesting.
Fun fact: 1,100 people are moving to Seattle A WEEK! This includes surrounding cities such as Redmond, Bellevue, etc.
Lets start by eliminating the cities that think they can win, but obviously will never land the HQ2 purely due to cost of living: The Northeast and California. $100k average annual salary does not impress potential employees in these areas. Do not get me wrong, $100k is nice, but not amazing when you compare it to other locations in the United States.
Having lived and traveled all over the united states, I am going to throw my top 5 predictions in no particular order. (Final order is listed at end of post)
Denver: Most people think of Denver as a West Coast city. But when you map it out, it is a sizable distance from Seattle which adds to the validity that Denver is a top choice as it is not too close to HQ1.
Charlotte and Cincinnati: On the opposite spectrum you have two East Coast locations which guarantees one thing: Your company now has a full 3 hours of additional working time during the day due to the time differences.
Austin and St. Louis: The two central locations are almost exactly the same distance from Seattle. However the map really does show how isolated Austin is from the rest of the country…smack dab in the middle of Texas.
Austin, TX on paper seems too small to host amazon. They would run into similar growth problems that Seattle has experienced both with talent and housing. However, what is one's loss is another gain and that is DELL. Dell is Austin's largest non-govt employer in Austin and lately has not been doing well. If we expect Dell to transition into the declining phase of corporate life, amazon would easily be able to absorb that talent over time. Also considering amazon just spent $14 Billion on WholeFoods who is based in Austin; that is a pretty solid reason to expand that investment.
Not to mention Austin has some great PR going for itself, seems everyone wants to live there even though they never even visited there. And one more thing… no state income tax for employees, score!
St. Louis, MO Back in the very early 1900's St. Louis was the 4th largest city in America. Fast forward 110 years and it is not considered a fly over city. However, STL still has some very large corporations based there and most importantly has the infrastructure to easily host Amazon HQ2. Amazon could have the pick of the litter from having a downtown mecca urban office space, to a river front campus to the standard suburban park oasis. In addition, St. Louis and Denver have the largest MSA populations on this top 5 list. Ironically the largest hurdle that St. Louis has is itself. Due to the city/county boundaries, St. Louis is consistently ranked as one of the highest crime ridden cities in America. The problem is that the stats only count a tiny portion of St. Louis which is the City of St. Louis which is TINY. It is like only taking the statistics of the BRONX in New York City and making that the representation of all of New York City. Regardless, St. Louis has the opposite problem of Austin and Denver; HORRIBLE PR.
Cincinnati, OH What most people do not know is that this area already has a large amazon presence. From Warehouses to the home base of Amazon Air's logistics hub(CVG). Cincinnati has enough land for whatever amazon would like and their downtown is "healthy", but could be better. There really is not that much else to say which could be bad or good. Overall it is just a solid and safe choice, but Amazon may want to be trying to create something rather than "rebuilding" another rust belt city.
Denver, CO. You have arrived at the Mile High City, both figurative and factual. It is probably good that marijuana is legal in both Colorado and Washington. It shouldn't be hard to attract talent to this city with a solid urban area, large airport, and nature galore. Though most people think of Denver as snowy, it has over 245 days of sunshine with some saying 300 if you include cloudy days but a peek of sun during the day. The cost of living is the highest out of my top 5 predictions, but it is still only 78% the cost of living when compared to Seattle. Meaning if you make $100k in seattle, you only need to make $78k in denver.
Charlotte, NC. Large Airport: Check. Downtown: Check. Cost of living: Check. Willing to sell soul to land Amazon: Check. Like St. Louis, Charlotte might have a PR problem in that it really has no PR. Not good, not bad. Then you have the bathroom law fiasco which didnt help the city. One could argue that by moving to the "South" amazon is challenging themselves to grow market share in the historic Walmart Turf. If they can succeed, they can then use that for best practices for other countries.
Lets me honest, the most important factor in determining where amazon will move too... is my own bias PR rank.