Amazon is looking for a North American city to house a staff of up to 50,000. They want a metro area of more than one million people, access to an international airport, multiple forms of transit, good quality of life, a supply of well-educated techies -- and tax breaks. This immediately narrows the list to a little more than 50 US metropolitan areas.
Amazon's new headquarters will be filled with programmers, distribution, warehouse, logistical and manufacturing facilities, and brick-and-mortar stores.
There’s a big difference in pay. Software engineers can earn six figure salaries while fulfillment center and delivery employees are paid around $12 per hour.
There are already 18 fulfillment centers in California, including in Riverside and San Bernardino. The LA Economic Development Corporation worked with LA on a bid that includes nine separate and distinct sites throughout LA County, each of which meets the specific requirements outlined in the RFP.
Based on the criteria, the New York Times is betting that Denver will be picked. However, one professor of marketing at NYU Stern, Scott Galloway, told KUOW in Seattle that he thinks Amazon has already made their choice and this beauty contest is a cynical ploy to garner promises of tax incentives they can leverage in their negotiations with the city they’ve already chosen.
A group called Good Jobs First that tracks subsidies agrees and points out, "While we assumed Amazon would apply this expertise for more fulfillment and sortation centers, it now appears the company will also deploy it for a new headquarters deal... we already see the markings of an aggressive messaging strategy to justify massive subsidies.”
Richard Florida, the urbanist who has long advocated for revitalizing dying cities with infusions of tech talent has said cities should not offer Amazon anything beyond the good stuff they already have. He adds that Amazon should use this as an opportunity to contribute to rebuilding a city, not soak it for incentives.
“Companies like Amazon pay their creative class and tech workers like gold, give them cafeterias, give them onsite health care, give them onsite daycare, give them onsite dog parks, and they treat their service workers like dirt. They contract that work out. So I think it's in Amazon's interest to recalibrate and... make a pledge to its winner city and all the other cities where it locates that we're going to be part of building a more inclusive urban prosperity, we're going to be a great urban citizen with you," Florida said.
Based on our own experience of having Snapchat and Google and the rest of Silicon Beach, having a big company open an office like this is a mixed blessing. We receive lots of new jobs and local investment; also escalating housing prices and gentrification. But Amazon has another effect on cities: its online and direct delivery retail model is impacting Main Street stores and traditional sales jobs.
Photo: Amazon's headquarters in downtown Seattle. (Megan Farmer/KUOW)