Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -0.38% executives have made a fresh round of visits to several of the 20 finalists for its $ 5 billion second-headquarters project, fueling added anticipation as it nears a decision in a process that has stretched over more than a year.
The visits over the past couple of months include New York City, Newark, N.J., and Chicago, according to people familiar with the matter. In addition, Amazon has been following up with other locations, including Miami and the Washington, D.C.-area, according to some of the people. Some cities, like Raleigh, N.C., haven’t heard from the retail giant in months, according to people familiar with the matter.
The discussions, which follow an initial round of visits early this year, have added to the already intense speculation regarding which way the technology giant is leaning. While Amazon appears to be narrowing its list of 20 finalists, it is still unclear which cities may be in the lead, and what exactly the additional visits indicate about specific cities’ chances.
Still, the visits have shed some additional light on the process. Amazon, for instance, appears to be favoring an urban site, say people familiar with the matter, which could be a problem for some sites in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md. Those two suburbs of Washington, D.C., along with the district itself, have long been speculated to be front-runners, in part because Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has a home there and owns the Washington Post.
People close to the process caution that Amazon is still in negotiations with several cities and hasn’t yet completed a deal with any one location. They said the company may negotiate near-final deals with several of them before announcing its ultimate selection, something that could help avoid signaling its choice prematurely.
Ideal site and building requirements:
- Proximity to population center: 30 miles
- Proximity to international airport: within approx. 45 min.
- Proximity to major highways and arterial roads: Not more than 1-2 miles
- Access to mass transit: At site (Direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, bus routes)
- Initial Square Foot Requirement: 500,000+ sq. ft. (Phase 1 – 2019)
- Total Square Foot Requirement: Up to 8,000,000 sq. ft. (Beyond 2027)
The flurry of recent discussions are part of the home stretch in a contest kicked off in September of last year, when Seattle-based Amazon announced a public search for what it dubbed HQ2. The company said it could hire as many as 50,000 employees and invest more than $ 5 billion in the new location over nearly two decades.
The HQ2 search has broken the mold for economic development in a way that experts say could have lasting impact on how companies invest in new sites—much like Amazon in its business has disrupted everything from the way consumers shop to the way companies compute and store their data.
The shortlist of 20 locations includes large, established cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities like Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis that have recently experienced an economic revival. The stakes for these smaller cities in winning HQ2 are especially high, promising drastic change by drawing in more highly-skilled workers, attracting other businesses and boosting real-estate prices, according to economic development experts.
After more than a year, officials “are all sitting by their phone waiting,” said Jeff Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council, an organization that represents economic development officials across the country.
Amazon is considering dozens of metrics and factors in its decision, including available tech talent and educational resources, cost of living, and public transportation.
After it announced its shortlist, Amazon conducted whirlwind, two-day site visits to all 20 cities, and asked a host of follow-up questions. They also requested reams of data as detailed as local high school test scores, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
Publicly, the process was quiet over the summer, with Amazon officials crunching data before executives in charge of the search decided to take another look at a few cities, according to the people. Some cities that didn’t receive a second visit are still in the running for the project. The Chicago Tribune previously reported that Amazon visited Chicago for a second time.
In the recent visits, Amazon executives spent much of their time exploring neighborhoods around, or nearby, sites that have been proposed for HQ2, said the people. Executives appear to be more interested in an urban site that is already woven into the fabric of the city and less interested in having its own campus outside a city center, said the people. One reason would be shorter commutes. It could also help with recruiting employees, something that has proven true with its urban, downtown Seattle campus which is peppered with walkable apartment buildings and trendy restaurants.
In New York City, one of the neighborhoods Amazon is exploring is Long Island City, Queens, according to one of the people. The residential neighborhood is perched on the East River overlooking Manhattan, and is being gentrified by high-rise buildings and young professionals.
Gene DePrez, managing partner at Global Innovation Partners Limited, a consulting firm that works on corporate site searches, said companies normally keep their searches secretive until the last possible moment. Most companies don’t want to tip off competitors about a strategic move or cause speculators to drive up real-estate prices.
The way Amazon ran a public HQ2 process is “all the things that we with experience try to work against so you don’t get everybody all excited and all upset,” he said.
—Valerie Bauerlein contributed to this article.