It’s been called the Olympics of the corporate world, Amazon Idol and the biggest economic development event in a generation. It’s thrown the economic development world into mayhem. It’s the race for HQ2.
Earlier this month, Amazon publicly announced it would be looking for potential locations to place their second, yet ‘equal’ corporate headquarters (HQ2) that will house as many as 50,000 new full-time employees, over the next 10 to 15 years. The $5 billion capital investment has just about every city, county, state (or province) salivating.
Sadly, most places in North America don’t meet the criteria for HQ2. Amazon is looking for:
- Metropolitan areas with more than one million people.
- A stable and business-friendly environment.
- Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.
- Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.
They are also interested in:
- An urban or downtown campus.
- A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus (which consists of 33 buildings, 24 restaurants/cafes and a total of 8.1 million square feet).
- Public transportation.
- A development-prepped site.
Know anywhere that fits the bill perfectly? I certainly do!
There have been hundreds of articles written about where HQ2 should, or should not, go— with every major North American city’s merits examined under the strongest of microscopes. In particular, one that has caught the attention of the masses is an article from The Upshot, a New York Times blog that uses data and graphics to simplify the news, where they circuitously conclude that Denver, Colorado is the answer to the HQ2 question.
The only problem? Based on Amazon’s business-model, Denver does not make any business-sense.
According to Ryan Boudinot, a former employee of the tech-behemoth, “Amazon is constitutionally designed to obsessively test itself and try new things. And the company is constantly pitting one idea against another, in a process called A/B testing…When the announcement came that Amazon would open not a satellite office, but a doppelganger HQ, my first thought was, ‘They’re going to A/B test the entire company.’
Keeping Amazon’s A/B testing or any reasonable business process in mind, would Denver, at just over 1,000 miles from Seattle, be an optimal place for HQ2? It certainly would not.
Here is what would make sense: a metropolitan area large enough to support two major league sports franchises, located within the East coast time zone. Clear across the country from Seattle, Washington and significantly extending Amazon’s business hours and their ability to conduct business more easily in other parts of the world.
Just including this modicum of business sense narrows the playing field considerably.
Then by adding some of Amazon’s other criteria, the list grows considerably shorter. Where on the East coast can you find a city with over a million people, having public transportation, an incredibly strong pipeline of tech-savvy workers in a business-friendly environment and with a physical location that can accommodate ten million-square-feet of development? The answer is obvious…
Charlotte, North Carolina.
And what really sets Charlotte apart? It’s not the beautiful North Carolina weather, close proximity to the mountains, recreational facilities, or even the restaurant, night life and burgeoning brewery scene. It’s the people.
Charlotte sits at the end of a talent pipeline that funnels from North Carolina’s vast network of public, private and community colleges and universities (including the world-renowned Research Triangle). As if these factors were not enough, Charlotte has become a place where the nation’s top talent wants to locate. With extremely high quality of life, reasonable housing prices, low tax rates and a fantastic international airport, Charlotte is importing the highest quality personnel daily.
The race for HQ2 barrels towards the October 19 RFP submission date and while who will win is yet undetermined, it becomes abundantly clear that Charlotte, North Carolina is the only realistic choice.
John E. Skvarla III is the former N.C. Secretary of Commernce and is a senior government relations advisor at Nexsen Pruet.