The award of what was formerly known as HQ2 — before Amazon, which is based in Seattle, split the prize, with the other half going to New York — is a bonanza for Virginia and the Washington area. In addition to the jobs windfall — with 25,000 employees, Amazon would add more jobs than any of the region’s biggest private employers have today — its spinoff benefits include the company’s plan to invest at least $2.5 billion to establish the new digs in Arlington County near Reagan National Airport, just across the Potomac from the District. Virginia pegged the infusion of new tax revenue at $3.2 billion over 20 years, or an average of $160 million annually for the state budget, currently about $55 billion.
As part of the deal with Amazon, state and local officials pledged significant new funds to upgrade local roads and transit, protect and expand affordable housing and, importantly, boost higher- education spending to juice the pipeline of tech graduates. And the people who run Metrorail, beset by dwindling ridership for nearly a decade, must be smiling at the prospect of thousands of new daily commuters making their way to Amazon jobs on the subway.
Like most bonanzas, this one is certain to come with trials. San Francisco, with its epidemic of NIMBYism, hellish housing prices and squadrons of homeless, is a glaring object lesson in the limits of tech-driven prosperity.
By dividing HQ2, Amazon may have halved the headaches it will foist on state and local officials. Still, it will be their job to anticipate the fallout and disruption to people’s lives, and take proactive steps to mitigate the effects of crowding, traffic and higher prices.
Those are serious headaches; in many ways, they’re also the right headaches to have, far more desirable than anemic economic prospects, dwindling tax revenue and young people desperate to attend college and seek employment elsewhere. Addressing one big problem — jobs, prosperity, growth — is a good starting point for chipping away at others. For this region, Amazon is an undeniable challenge. If managed properly, it’s also a launching pad for a brighter future.