Amazon Skips Over Columbus For HQ2 | WOSU Radio

Amazon Skips Over Columbus For HQ2

Nov 13, 2018

Amazon will split its second North American headquarters between New York City and a Washington D.C. suburb in Northern Virginia, following a year-long contest that pitted Columbus against cities across the U.S. and Canada.

Amazon HQ2, as it’s been called, promises to cost $5 billion and employ 25,000 full-time workers at each location, with an average salary of over $150,000. More than 200 cities applied for the privilege, and in January, Amazon listed Columbus as one of 20 finalists.

"I have never been more proud of the City of Columbus and its partners than during our bid for Amazon HQ2," Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement Tuesday. "Our collaborative spirit is in high gear, and this process reinforced how well our region competes together. Amazon may not be building its next headquarters here, but the company remains an excellent partner with multiple facilities in central Ohio."

Instead of building a single second headquarters, Amazon announced Tuesday it would be building two offices. The New York office will be built build in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. The other office will be in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va., next door to Washington, D.C.

“These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a press release. "The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”

Amazon also announced it will open a "Operations Center of Excellence" in Nashville, which will feature 5,000 full-time jobs. Hiring for all three sites is slated to start in 2019.

In its announcement last September, Amazon asked for a metro area of over 1 million people, access to mass transit and a business-friendly climate. While Columbus fulfilled the size requirement, and boasts both a growing economy and educated workforce, experts considered it a “long shot” because of its lack of public transportation.

Indeed, New York City and D.C.'s extensive public transportation systems and international airports were highlighted by Amazon in their announcement Tuesday.

But Columbus city leaders leaped at the opportunity to court the company, which already operates multiple fulfillment and data centers in the state. Columbus proposed sites in Franklinton, Easton and The Ohio State University, and submitted a bid with a hefty tax incentives package. The incentives would have added up to $2.3 billion in savings for Amazon over 15 years.

The proposal would have given a 100 percent property tax abatement for the headquarters site, and reimburse Amazon up to $75 million for land acquisition and site preparation after 15 years. Columbus would also have provided a 35 percent refund on income taxes for new full-time employees.

To solve the transportation problem, Columbus touted its status as a Smart City and proposed to build a new Transit & Mobility Fund. That fund, paid for by income taxes for new Amazon workers, would “support both transit and infrastructure investments to better connect the project sites.” However, Columbus would focus on "street solutions" and autonomous vehicles, rather than the subways that help define NYC and D.C.

It’s not clear what, if any, incentives the state of Ohio offered to Amazon.

"The work we did in our proposal gives us a roadmap for our future and how we will tackle challenges that come with growth: affordable housing, mobility, workforce development," Ginther said in his statement.

That Columbus got this far in the process was a surprise of its own. It was one of just three Midwest cities and the only one in Ohio to make the cut, beating out both Cincinnati and Cleveland.

However, critics around the city expressed worries that Amazon’s arrival would lead to higher rents and gentrification. LGBTQ activists also urged Amazon to stay away, pointing to Ohio’s lack of anti-discrimination laws. Ohio law does not protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although the city of Columbus ranks highly for LGBTQ inclusion.

Other cities passed over include Atlanta; Austin; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Md.; Nashville; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, N.C.; Toronto, Canada; and Washington, D.C.