Amazon Names Top 20 Finalist Cities in Race for New HQ

The field has narrowed from hundreds of candidates to 20 locations with a chance of landing the tech-retail giant's next phase -- and the massive investment that will come with it.

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The list of possible locations for tech giant Amazon’s second corporate headquarters is narrowing. Back in October, 238 North American cities sent the company detailed proposals, hoping for the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion investment the Seattle-based company estimates it will be bringing to the chosen host city.

More than 200 of those cities got the brush-off on Jan. 18, when Amazon shared the list of the 20 remaining cities. So long, St. Louis and Detroit. Too bad, Twin Cities. Bye-bye, Baltimore. Sorry, Vancouver — you were probably just too close to headquarters No. 1.

Amazon is one of the largest tech employers in the world, and though some in the Emerald City complain of traffic and housing woes due in part to the company’s growth, many cities are longing to be the chosen one.

The company has very specific requirements. It wants a metro area with more than a million residents, and good access to mass transit, an international airport and a major highway. It also is seeking qualified workers, good fiber-optic internet connections and a diverse population and recreational opportunities — much like its current Pacific Northwest home.

Here’s a look at the remaining 20 contenders.

1. Atlanta

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The South is still well-represented on Amazon’s list — maybe because the company wants an alternative to the Pacific Northwest’s rain and cold. Atlanta remains in the running, perhaps due to its low cost of living, deep labor pool, supply-chain capabilities and the benefits of Georgia Tech, the public research university in the state capital. But the city’s sprawl may work against it.

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2. Austin

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Well, howdy! Austin is still in. The lively Texas capital is an appealing place to live and play, although it comes up short in some areas. In true Texas style, there is a lot of land, but the mass transit isn’t great and the airport isn’t a huge international hub like those located near other competitors.

3. Boston

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Boston is still a contender. Will Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos want to pahk his cah in Hahvahd Yahd? No question, Boston has an educated, techie populace from which to draw employees, as well as good public transport. But is the already crowded metro region big enough to give Amazon the space it needs?

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4. Chicago

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The Windy City doesn’t get blown out of competitions easily. Good public transit, a major airport (two, really) and plenty of techies already there and raring to work? Check, check, check. Finding the right spot might be tough, but Crain’s Chicago Business found numerous possible locations, including the Old Chicago Main Post Office site. Maybe Amazon will make a special delivery there?

5. Columbus, Ohio

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Columbus is one of the more low-key contenders on the list of 20 finalists, which both helps and hurts the Ohio capital. Housing is inexpensive, and Ohio State University lends the city techie gravitas and research power. But it’s got to be considered a dark horse against more prominent places such as Denver, D.C. and Boston.

6. Dallas

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Austin’s not the only Texas contender still in the running (although Houston didn’t make the cut). Dallas could be a good landing place for the tech giant. It has plenty of land and tech talent, and a lower cost of living than competitors such as New York and San Francisco. But mass transit isn’t as good in the Big D as in many urban areas — it’s a shame workers can’t travel by horseback. Yee-haw!

7. Denver

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Denver is surely one of the top contenders for Amazon 2.0 — it’s so much like Seattle, where Amazon originated. With outdoor activities, mountains, an educated workplace and coffeehouse culture, Denver shares plenty of praiseworthy elements with Seattle. Some have even suggested the cities are too similar, and possibly too physically close, for the Colorado capital to win the nod.

8. Indianapolis

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Indianapolis, like Columbus, surprised some observers when it made the top 20. As with Columbus, the housing is inexpensive, the living cost low. But can Indy handle such a mammoth company? Traffic congestion, lack of public transit (something, to be fair, Seattle isn’t great at either) and, oh yeah, that winter weather could all play roles.

9. Los Angeles

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Los Angeles may seem to have it all — size, workers and airport access among them. (Still working on that mass transit, though it’s better than in the old days.) But do you think of tech jobs when you think of L.A.? No, you think of movies and TV shows. And what is Amazon making more of these days for its online video program? Original TV shows. Hooray for Hollywood!

11. Miami

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Miami’s blazing-hot beaches and laid-back culture couldn’t be more different from Seattle, so it’s fitting the two cities are at opposite ends of the country. But the Florida vacation spot feels like a reach as Amazon’s headquarters pick. Housing is expensive, and isn’t the city supposed to be underwater before too long?

12. Montgomery County, Maryland

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Montgomery County, Maryland, might be the most unfamiliar name on the list to some Americans, but all you need to know is that it’s one of three contenders in and around the Washington, D.C., area, which has to have a strong appeal to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In 2017, Bezos bought the former Textile Museum, a 27,000-square-foot D.C. property, “intending to convert it into a single-family home,” the Washington Post reported. It makes sense — Bezos owns the newspaper. Having three D.C.-area locations in the final 20 sends a strong signal.

13. Nashville

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Could Amazon trade in Seattle grunge for Nashville’s country music? Some observers were surprised to see Music City make the list. Yes, Tennessee has no income tax (though residents do pay tax on dividends and investment income). But traffic, affordable housing and transit could all prove to be woes worthy of a country tune.

14. Newark, New Jersey

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To many, Newark is just an airport, but the New Jersey city has the advantage of being close to New York City without having the Big Apple’s insane housing issues. Could Amazon punt on a NYC choice by going with next-door Newark instead?

15. New York City

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Does New York City really need Amazon? The city fills the company’s bill as far as having mass transit, airport access and a strong worker pool, but where would a giant new corporate campus sprawl out in the City That Never Sleeps? And can anyone who’s not a Trump afford to move to New York these days?

15. Northern Virginia

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Hey, remember Montgomery County a few slides back? Northern Virginia, which includes such D.C. bedroom communities as Arlington and Alexandria, fits that same bill. It might be a way to bring Bezos back to the other Washington more frequently. Wouldn’t want that gigantic house to get lonely.

16. Philadelphia

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Can Philadelphia freedom ring in Amazon’s new location? It’s already headquarters to Comcast, so there’s precedent for a large tech company setting down roots here. But, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly may not be able to compete financially against some other cities, due to high taxes on local residents. Still, like homeboy Rocky, the city is in there slugging it out.

17. Pittsburgh

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Philly isn’t the only Pennsylvania city fighting for Amazon’s favor. Pittsburgh made the cut, too, and research university Carnegie Mellon might help its cause. The nation’s steel capital has been working on reinventing itself with more of a techie edge, and it’s more affordable than many other contenders. But is it trendy enough to attract tech workers?

18. Raleigh, North Carolina

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Raleigh made the cut while, to the surprise of some, same-state contender Charlotte got the ax. Raleigh ranks high for tech companies and research universities, but it definitely feels like it’s operating on a smaller level than competition such as Washington, D.C., or Denver. Political controversy like that generated by a transgender bathroom law in 2017 (since repealed) doesn’t help North Carolina’s image.

19. Toronto

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O Canada, do you really have a shot? Vancouver, the other major Great White North contender, didn’t make the top 20 — unsurprisingly, since it’s so close to Seattle. Putting Amazon 2.0 in another country could be politically and logistically problematic. But Toronto boasts a diverse, educated labor force, and its location in Ontario, in the eastern half of Canada, would offer Amazon geographic diversity.

20. Washington, D.C.

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As mentioned in the Montgomery County and Northern Virginia slides, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a giant home and a giant newspaper in Washington, D.C., so the nation’s capital has to be considered a force to be reckoned with. Washington is a cosmopolitan and educated city, with good mass transit. But housing isn’t cheap, and no one should know that better than the man who paid $23 million to stake an East Coast claim.

Would you want Amazon to choose your city or town for its next headquarters? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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