Local leaders across North America are suddenly competing to host the second headquarters of Amazon, one of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms. But an analysis by The Washington Post shows that only a few dozen metropolitan areas fit the criteria set out by the technology giant in an announcement Thursday.
Officials representing St. Louis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Tulsa all proclaimed their interest and signaled their intention to bid for Amazon’s new HQ. Many local governments are expected to offer generous tax incentives and other deals to lure the online retailer to town.
(Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.)
But a close look at Amazon’s request for proposals shows that the company is looking for very particular things. For example, the document expresses a preference for metro areas with more than 1 million residents, and emphasizes the need for a highly educated talent pool. In addition, Amazon said, the ideal site would be easy to fly into, and would have enough space — as much as 8 million square feet — for years of growth. Put all those criteria together, and the list of the most ideal regions begins to narrow quickly.
The Post’s analysis examined which North American metro areas could fit the bill. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the United Nations and flight-booking services, the research winnowed down potentially hundreds of urban areas from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Here are the 39 candidates that hew most closely to some of Amazon’s guidelines.
To produce this map, we began with one of Amazon’s logistical recommendations — that the ideal candidate should have easy access to an international airport. In North America, there are thousands of cities and towns, but only a handful of those are home to the continent’s more than 160 international airports.
At this point, the list contained places as far-reaching as Honolulu; Cancun, Mexico; and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Of course, many of the airports here are only "international" to the extent that they connect, say, Canada and the United States.
We then eliminated 79 possibilities whose populations were too small to match Amazon’s size requests. Knocked out of the running in this round were places including Quebec City, Albuquerque and Dayton, Ohio, all of whose metro areas have fewer than 1 million residents, according to U.S. and U.N. statistics.
Our last round of eliminations came from cutting locations that did not offer daily, nonstop air travel to key U.S. business hubs — Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. — which Amazon said was “an important consideration.” Among the 39 remaining locations are metros such as Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles. That's where you get the map above.
But there are additional concerns that could shrink the list of attractive candidates even further. In seemingly competitive places like New York and San Francisco, the high cost of living could make it difficult for Amazon to hire enough employees who can afford to live there. The number of jobs Amazon intends to fill, 50,000, may be the most limiting factor because so few areas have that many qualified workers.
“The number of labor markets even in the U.S. that can handle that is somewhat limited. I would imagine it would be limited to the top 10 or 15 metropolitan areas, even in the United States," said Dylan Taylor, president and chief operating officer of Toronto-based Colliers International, a real estate services firm.
The particular difficulty, Taylor said, is that markets with deep enough pools of workers, such as San Francisco, are already crowded by corporate competitors in search of the same talent. He said that could give secondary areas like Atlanta, Dallas or Toronto a leg up.
“You have to somehow thread the needle between a market that is big enough, but not so over-saturated already,” he said.
Meanwhile, cash-strapped locations such as Los Angeles and Chicago may not have room in their budgets for the kind of tax and regulatory incentives that would successfully entice Amazon and beat out other urban areas.
Lastly, geographic diversity may play a factor, too. With so many tech companies based on the West Coast, a second headquarters in a different time zone could help set Amazon apart and expand its economic, political and cultural influence to the East Coast.
These are more subjective metrics. Still, after taking those into account, what’s left are a number of major destinations such as Atlanta, Philadelphia and, yes, the nation’s capital — but also a series of more interesting locales. Baltimore, Detroit, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Mexico City and Toronto all made the list, as did Cleveland, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Orlando.
Here's the full list of 39 metropolitan areas included in The Post's analysis:
Minneapolis / St. Paul
New York City / Newark
Raleigh / Durham
Salt Lake City
San Francisco / San Jose / Oakland