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Is D.C. A Serious Contender for Amazon HQ2? Here’s Why And Why Not.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WAMU 88.5 By Sasha-Ann Simons

Will Amazon’s Seattle headquarters — with its disinctive glass spheres — find a suitable sequel in D.C.?

Internet giant Amazon is pitting cities against each other in a bid for its second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2.” At least five jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C. region alone are actively writing proposals to convince Amazon to build the $5 billion project and bring the 50,000 new jobs it promises to the area.

Several analysts have ranked the nation’s capital among the top 10 locations. They believe the area checks off a number of characteristics on Amazon’s wish list:

  • Population size (the metropolitan area should have more than 1 million people)
  • Good higher education
  • An international airport
  • Mass transit

“It has a high walk score, high transit scores and it has very well-developed public transportation,” said Anthony Chukumba, a senior research analyst for Loop Capital Markets. “It also has a high bike score.”

In a 13-page online report published last week, Chukumba builds a case for why he expects New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston to get the most consideration from Amazon. But, according to the analyst who’s been covering the retail industry for more than a decade, the Washington region (ranked #9 out of 20) should not be ruled out.

“I would almost rank [the Washington region] sixth, because I don’t really believe that San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Miami are serious contenders,” Chukumba said.

Another positive for the D.C. area: geography. With “HQ1” located in Seattle, insiders say it makes sense to build on the East Coast.

Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, already has ties in the District. He owns the Washington Post and a $23 million property in the Kalorama neighborhood.

Brian Kenner, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said the District will “aggressively” propose between five and seven potential sites.

“We feel like we know how to successfully pitch,” Kenner said. “We feel like we can do big things quite well, because we’re asked to do big things all the time.”

Attractive incentives, such as land, will be a key part of Amazon’s decision. Metro is offering up some of its parcels as a potential good fit.

As mentioned in a board summary note to be presented Thursday:

“Metro’s property can provide the connectivity and transit access that Amazon prefers. WMATA would consider including any viable and available site in a bid response to Amazon’s RFP, in partnership with WMATA’s jurisdictional partners or a serious developer.”

Aside from the pitch from the District, the suburbs are gearing up for Amazon, too. For instance, Prince George’s County is focusing its bid on two possible locations.

“Prince George’s County has led the state of Maryland in job growth for three quarters in a row, and that hasn’t even been a close competition,” said David Iannucci, who heads Economic Development for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

But here are some factors to consider:

  • Traffic congestion is a daily problem in the Washington region, and one of the worst in the country
  • Metro’s ongoing maintenance problems have been well-documented
  • The nation’s capital is known more for government, policy, and defense — than it is for retail

“I guess I question how comfortable Amazon would be, in terms of a city where most of the talent it’s attracting is the lobbyist, government employee,” said Chukumba.

Each jurisdiction’s bid is due to Amazon on Oct. 19 and the retail giant says it will pick a location next year.