Columbus Considered A Long Shot To Land Amazon Headquarters

Oct 19, 2017

Thursday is the deadline for U.S. cities to submit bids to Amazon if they want to be home to the giant online retailer’s second headquarters. Does Columbus really stand a chance?

It’s small, but sure, says Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the New York-based think tank The Manhattan Institute.

“I wouldn’t say Columbus is one of the top prospects, and probably hasn’t made a lot of people’s top prospects. But it’s not one that I would rule out, either.”

Renn says Columbus has some things going for it, including being a growing economy, which he says is key for an employer looking to hire 50,000 new employees. It’s also a highly-educated population with plenty of college graduates.

Other Ohio cities are taking a swing at Amazon, as well. According to Cincinnati.com, Cincinnati is teaming up with city leaders and economic organizations in Dayton and northern Kentucky for a regional bid, which would include "aggressive" tax incentives.

Cleveland will pitch itself as having a growing downtown and technology sector, with proximity to the Great Lakes and a major airport. Even the city of Niles is getting in on the fun, offering an undeveloped 105-acre plot for a mere $1.

Renn says politics could also play a part if Amazon is looking to expand in a more Republican-controlled area.

“They’re already in a very ‘blue’ environment, and with a lot of talk in Washington about regulation, looking for some influential ‘red’ state locations might be something that they would be thinking about. Ohio’s not perfect in that (respect), but it’s certainly right now leaning more red than blue.”

Another factor that Renn says could play a part are Central Ohio’s relative lack of natural disasters, which have devastated some southern and western states this year.

“Geographically, kind of hedging their bets a little bit, getting more toward the Eastern time zone might be something they want to do," Renn says.

It might have some things going for it, but Columbus still lacks the allure of larger, better-connected metro areas like Chicago and Dallas, which Renn sees as the most-likely homes for the second Amazon headquarters.

As much as Columbus leaders might push the fact that the city is located within 500 miles of half of the U.S. population, Renn says that’s really only a fact for distribution, not a headquarters.

Amazon operates several distribution centers and data centers in Central Ohio.

Ohio's congressional delegation has made a bipartisan pitch, writing to Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos touting the state's central location, higher education, workforce, transportation and "business-friendly" environment without singling out one Buckeye locale as tops. 

For the right city, winning Amazon's second headquarters could help it attain the rarefied status of "tech hub," with the prospect of thousands of highly skilled, well-paid workers, upgrading a city's urban core and fueling job growth beyond Amazon itself.

Other companies would likely move, over time, to that city, including employers that work with Amazon in such cutting-edge fields as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Some Amazon employees would also likely leave the company to start new businesses, creating more job growth.

In theory at least, those trends could help attract more highly educated residents in a virtuous cycle that helps increase salaries and home values.

However, economists warn these bidding wars aren't always beneficial for the city. According to NPR, Seattle - the original home of Amazon - saw housing costs rise and traffic get worse.