Yesterday, Amazon announced its 20 city HQ2 shortlist. There's a lot to read into the cities and "cities" that made the list. Here are the top-five things you need to know about who's still in the running, who isn't, and what it means for Philadelphia.
1. Who's on the shortlist?
Back in early November we predicted that Amazon would release its shortlist in February. We were a couple weeks off and, more importantly, wildly underestimated how many applicants would make the cut. We expected a top-five and got four times that.
Who made it? Atlanta Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County, Nashville, Newark, New York, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto, and Washington.
The popular narrative at this point is that the list is simply the 20 largest US cities. But it's important to note that 11 of those cities didn't make the cut. Houston (#4, 2,300,000), Phoenix (#5, 1,615,000), San Antonio (#7, 1,492,000), San Diego (#8, 1,406,000), San Jose (#10, 1,025,000), Jacksonville (#12, 880,000), San Francisco (#13, 870,000), Charlotte (#17, 842,000), and El Paso (#20, 683,000) are all on the outside, looking in.
Fort Worth (#16, 854,000) was left off but it's effectively part of the Dallas bid, so it's not excluded from the party. More importantly, though, Seattle (#18, 704,000) isn't in the running. Their omission eliminates the possibility that this whole thing was just an elaborate play to extract more from the city and Washington state.
Who jumped the queue? Washington (#21, 681,000), Boston (#22, ~675,000), Nashville (#24, 660,000), Atlanta (#38, ~475,000), Miami (#42, 453,000), Raleigh (#44, 458,000), Pittsburgh (#63, 303,000), and Newark (#70, 281,000). Rounding out the finalist cities is Toronto (Would be #3, 2,731,000), the only non-US city to make the list.
Only two states had two cities make the cut—Pennsylvania and Texas—but one region had three: the greater DC metro. In addition to Washington, other DC metro cities in the mix included Montgomery County, MD (would be #10, 1,043,000) and Northern Virginia, VA (would be #5, 2,230,000). This is notable, of course, because Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and purchased a house in the District. And as we know, CEOs tend to locate their headquarters near where they live.
2. What do the omissions tell us?
Of the nine Top 20 cities that got the boot—it's fair to say that Jacksonville and El Paso never had a chance—four are on the west coast. This jibes with the perception that Amazon wants an East Coast headquarters. The exclusion of San Antonio and Houston was probably just a numbers game; Austin was a sure bet, and presuming they didn't want more than two Texas cities, the decision would have come down to the three other cities for the second spot. It could have gone to any of them, but Houston's recent flood may have played a role, and although San Antonio is booming, it doesn't have nearly the tech base that Dallas has.
Charlotte is by far the biggest shock of the group. The best explanation for their exclusion is a desire to focus on Raleigh as the North Carolina option. But that's a pretty weak argument. If I'm Charlotte, this list is a real punch in the gut.
3. What about the "smaller" cities that made the cut?
Many of the non-Top 20 cities were the ones we'd expect. Washington, Boston, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh were on everyone's shortlist. Raleigh was on most, and is a dark horse candidate due to the combination of ease of doing business and the established talent pool. Nashville is an interesting inclusion; it's one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, but is sub-par on many of the talent and infrastructure metrics that Amazon included in their RFP. Newark is the cheap way to do New York, and for that reason might have a shot to win over a notoriously cheap operation.
Six of the eight queue-jumpers are on the East Coast, and the other two (Nashville and Pittsburgh) could roughly be described as East Coast-adjacent. When adding smaller cities, Amazon made clear they have their eyes on the right coast.
4. How excited should we be about making the list?
If Philly boosters were asked, candidly, how confident they were that we'd make a 20 city shortlist, the responses would have ranged between extremely and entirely. But that's exactly what we would have heard from the folks who put together Charlotte's bid.
Our emotional responses to competitions between Philadelphia and other cities are almost always relief or disappointment. There are very few moments of joy. The city's inclusion on the list is no exception, as we should simply be relieved that we aren't Charlotte. The next list, whether it's another shortlist or the ultimate winner, will be the really exciting one. For someone.
5. What does the list say about Philly's chances?
With 20 cities still in the running, it's difficult to make too many inferences. But our analysis from three months ago still holds: If they don't care about cost, they'll pick New York or Boston. If it's about doing things fast, cheap, and easy, HQ2 lands somewhere in the south. And if it's all about Bezos, one of the DC bids gets it.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Philadelphia is a unicorn bid. We’re the only affordable major city on the East Coast with a true walkable urban living experience, which is something the company appears to value. If that’s what they want, there’s only one option.
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