Washington communities bid for Amazon’s HQ2; focusing on what attracts investment and job creation

Several Washington communities are entering the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2). When we first wrote about the company’s decision to expand outside its current Seattle base, we said the announcement launched a wave of speculation about where the company would land. But,

The speculation, however, is less interesting than the introspection occurring in Washington. Much of it is the kind of thing we’ve been writing about since Opportunity Washington launched several years ago. What makes a region desirable for investment and job creation? What policies promote shared prosperity? How do we expand opportunity in our state? 

…The fundamentals still matter. Ideally, Amazon’s decision will help focus debate on how Washington can advance opportunity and job creation.

Communities in our state, recognizing they face long odds, are taking advantage of the competition to consider their competitive advantages and areas in which public policy can improve the odds.

The Spokesman-Review reports on Spokane’s thinking

If Spokane wants to make a competitive bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, it needs an extraordinarily bold, regional proposal, says Tom Simpson, a local venture capitalist.

Think of bullet trains connecting Spokane to Seattle, he said.

Or, a light-rail system that allows people to commute from Sandpoint to Spokane and from Spokane to Pullman, giving Amazon workers plenty of choices for where to live.

Or, workforce training for the tech industry at local colleges and universities.

Greater Spokane Incorporated is preparing the proposal.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” said Robin Toth, GSI’s vice president of business development…

GSI has been working with politicians, local governments, Spokane International Airport, real estate brokers and others as it crafts the proposal, Toth said…

Aside from the headquarters, there will be other opportunities to attract Amazon operations to the Spokane area. Submitting the headquarters bid is another chance to tell Spokane’s story to company officials, she said.

In the Seattle Times, state Sen. Guy Palumbo endorses a collaborative regional approach, one which focuses on satellite offices in several communities

We cannot afford a piecemeal approach that pits our cities or counties against each other. It makes far more sense to pool our assets and do this together.

Our collective pitch should be focused on workforce availability and infrastructure.

He also cites some challenges.

But, if we are going to do this right, we have to be vocally self-critical about our shortcomings and work quickly to systematically address them.

For instance, the boom in tech jobs in Seattle was not matched by a corresponding boost in infrastructure, for which Amazon is routinely blamed…

We also have not adequately addressed our state’s workforce-development issues. We are turning kids away from computer science in some schools because we lack the physical space needed to teach them. It takes 14 years on average for a college to get a new building. The pace of innovation in tech, at Amazon specifically, cannot wait 14 years for qualified employees.

We can dramatically ramp up the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees both operationally and by providing more higher education infrastructure. Lastly, we can bring back the data-center incentive and pass an amended research and development credit.

The News Tribune reports that Tacoma and Pierce County are pursuing a bid that specifically rejects the regional pitch.

Pierce County is well on its way in wooing Amazon to build its second headquarters in the City of Destiny — and says it doesn’t need King and Snohomish counties to do it.

In fact, rebuffing an offer from the counties to the north to join their bid for Amazon’s $5 billion campus and 50,000 high-paying jobs might help Pierce County’s chances with the company, a state official says.

Not a lot of detail on the Tacoma bid is available.

Broadly, the Pierce County proposal highlights available properties in Tacoma and nearby cities, touts the value of University of Washington Tacoma and will include letters from business and city leaders, [Pierce County Executive Bruce] Dammeier said.

He and others did not share more details of the plan. Many cities across the continent are closely guarding their proposals to maintain what they see as an advantage.

While the details of the various pitches aren’t available, a Wall Street Journal piece suggests things to avoid. The article calls the search “bad news for Seattle,” speculating that much of the firm’s expansion will take place at HQ2. That’s unclear. The article cites a report by Green Street Advisors, a real-estate research firm.

Amazon hasn’t said why it is expanding its growth beyond Seattle.

But the Green Street report speculates that a shift in the city’s regulatory climate might have played a role in the company’s decision to expand elsewhere. For example, Seattle recently approved an income tax on wealthy households, a move that is being challenged in court.

“It’s not too hard to connect the dots,” Green Street’s Mr. Bragg said.

As we said, a little introspection might be valuable.