The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion To win Amazon, higher ed was Virginia’s secret sauce

Amazon will build its new headquarters offices in the Crystal City area of Arlington and in New York. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

THE VANGUARD of Amazon’s workforce at its new headquarters in Northern Virginia is expected next year in the form of 400 freshly minted employees of an eventual expected minimum of 25,000 who will occupy the site near Reagan National Airport. Their arrival is likely to generate more buzz than another new foothold, a couple of miles away, where the first 100 graduate students at Virginia Tech’s planned $1 billion “Innovation Campus” will also get down to work in temporary quarters. Those two beachheads are closely related, and the second may become just as consequential for the Washington region as the first.

The state’s plan to invest heavily in higher education, including but not limited to the new Virginia Tech campus, was announced concurrently with the Amazon deal. It does not appear in the 25-page agreement it signed with the tech behemoth (whose chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Post), which contains hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives. Nonetheless, it appears to have been a key component of the package, and one that may have been just as enticing to the executives at Amazon headquarters who were focused, first and foremost, on the availability of future tech talent for its new headquarters, both in Virginia and in New York.

By sweetening the deal for Amazon with a planned $1.1 billion to produce 25,000 to 35,000 additional graduates in computer science and engineering fields over the coming 20 years — doubling the current rate — Virginia very likely also sweetened its own future.

Its blueprint to establish a Northern Virginia outpost of Virginia Tech, and to expand STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs at the existing Arlington campus of George Mason University and elsewhere, represents a more ambitious vision than what may end up being regarded as a relatively modest package of financial incentives offered to Amazon directly. That package, including nearly $223 million in planned transportation and infrastructure spending, plus cash payments to reward Amazon’s hiring as it ramps up, comes to roughly $800 million from Virginia and Arlington County — a fraction of the amount New York is ponying up, to say nothing of the bonanza Maryland dangled to lure Amazon.

In addition to an airport located minutes away, friendly business and political climates and an existing stock of tech talent, Virginia’s secret sauce clearly included a full-on embrace of the knowledge economy. It’s not only that Amazon’s headquarters will rebrand Virginia; by pouring money into higher ed, Virginia is rebranding itself.

For the new Virginia Tech campus, the state and the university will each put up $250 million. More is expected from philanthropy, corporations and other sources to supplement the state’s spending. Barring a major recession, Amazon’s impending hiring spree, and the ancillary businesses it is likely to attract, are likely to prime the pump to produce those additional higher education funds.

Yes, there are likely to be speed bumps, but by most early indicators, Virginia seems to have bargained wisely.

Read more:

Letters: Amazon effect: A pedestrian bridge across the Potomac?

The Post’s View: The local Amazon headquarters finalists shouldn’t get into a bidding war

Sonny Bunch: What Amazon and Jeff Bezos could learn from LeBron James’s ‘The Decision’

Erik Wemple: Trump’s Amazon fixation proves anti-media rhetoric is real

Alexandra Petri: Amazon threatens to cut HQ2 in twain to see who wants it most