Over Labour Day weekend, a club promoter who goes by the name Purple posted a photo on Instagram from the LIV nightclub in Miami. Standing in front of a wall graffitied with names and a single “Life is Beautiful” sticker, Purple’s arm was casually draped over the shoulder of Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive, whose pants matched the host’s name.
“It’s not everyday you get to hang with the richest guy in the world,” Purple wrote on Instagram. “What a pleasure.”
But when The Miami Herald covered the celebrity spotting, its cares turned toward the practical: “Could this be good news for Miami’s HQ2 bid?”
Friday marked one year since Amazon announced its search for a second headquarters, a project called HQ2, which the company says will bring US$5-billion in investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs to the area it chooses. With no city crowned yet, news outlets, politicians and communities around the country are left reading between the Instagram lines.
People are finding clues for the 20 candidate cities just about anywhere. Could the dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science be resigning to run a Pittsburgh HQ2? Is it a sign that Alaska Airlines, the hometown carrier in Seattle, announced a daily nonstop flight to Columbus, Ohio? So many people asked about an Amazon job posting in Newark, New Jersey, for “Urban Planning and Development Director” that Amazon made a rare public statement, saying it was a job for its Audible division, which is already in the city.
“It’s the big reveal, like ‘Who killed J.R.?’” said Alex Pearlstein, vice-president at Market Street Services, which helps cities develop strategies to be attractive to new employers. “It’s that kind of buildup.”
After receiving 238 bids for HQ2, Amazon narrowed the list to 20 cities in January. It toured each in the late winter and spring, which many local news outlets covered. But since then, any back and forth has largely been out of the public eye, thanks to the nondisclosure agreements city officials and development agencies have signed with the company.
While the six weeks Amazon gave cities to submit their initial proposal was considered fast by officials, the second round of bidding required far more bespoke work. The follow-up since then has been even more granular, such as rerunning models to evaluate what would happen if Amazon tweaked the scope of the project, said Sam Bailey, who runs the HQ2 bid for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
Some city and economic development officials seem tired of waiting. “Probably every dinner party they go to, every neighborhood meeting, it comes up,” Mr. Pearlstein said. “They probably get sick of wanting to stall” when queried about the latest.
Those whose cities aren’t selected will be eager to move on, using what they learned in the process.
Amazon’s “feedback is very relevant and can help shape public policy, economic development and housing investment strategies for growing economies across the United States,” Mr. Bailey said. “If Eastern Time zone was a big deal for them, I can’t change that. But I can help policy leaders change their work-force development plans.”
An Amazon spokesman said on Thursday the company was committed to choosing a location this year.
The silence on the decision – which could affect local housing and job markets, not to mention a city’s culture – has led residents and even some officials to fill the information void with any scrap they can mustre.
Some are even acting on their hunches.
Eric Fidler, a software developer in Washington, lives next to one of the sites Washington has proposed for the new headquarters. He was so optimistic the region would be selected that he invested in three real estate companies he thought would benefit if Amazon chose the area. Then he thought he got an HQ2 crumb when he heard from a recruiter for Amazon’s retail division, which doesn’t have a large engineering presence locally.
He followed up with the recruiter, and learned the position was in Palo Alto, Calif., or Seattle. But he was not deterred.
“Some people do fantasy football,” Mr. Fidler said. “I prefer to speculate on Amazon.”
The District of Columbia City Council got into the guessing game, too. Amazon’s website typically posts a picture of an employee’s dog if a user goes to a broken link on the site. The council’s official Twitter account recently posted a screenshot of an Amazon webpage of a black Border collie mix named Bowser, who shares a name with the district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser.
A tenuous connection, indeed. But that’s proven no barrier for some public speculation.
“I can’t decide if this bodes well or poorly for DC’s Amazon HQ2 chances,” the official council posted on Twitter.
The 20 finalist on Amazon's list:
- Austin, Texas
- Columbus, Ohio
- Los Angeles
- Montgomery County, Maryland
- New York
- Northern Virginia, Virginia
- Raleigh, N.C.
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