As Amazon looks for candidates for its second headquarters (HQ2), Seattle leadership would like a clean slate in its relationship with the company. One policy researcher warns the city missed its chance and let a prime opportunity for more jobs and an economic surge slip away.
In September, Amazon announced it would invest $5 billion into creating HQ2 which would employ 50,000 workers and be comparable in size to Seattle’s headquarters.
Washington Policy Center (WPC) President Daniel Mead Smith told Lens it is already too late for Seattle to entice Amazon to locate its second headquarters downtown.
“Amazon made it clear it wasn’t interested in Seattle, but was looking for different locations, different workforces and a different type of business climate,” he said.
Other Washington cities have submitted applications including Bellevue, Renton and Tacoma.
However, Smith said there is a “zero percent chance” Amazon will choose a location for HQ2 within Washington state.
“The company is looking for a city or region with a different high-tech skillset and a different type of business climate, and an area with some tax incentives.”
He continued: “They decided Washington state is not going to be where they want to be because of how friendly we are to business and how unpredictable Seattle is. All the city council talks about is additional taxes and regulations for businesses in Seattle, and they never look at ways to reduce taxes or reduce regulations.”
A recent example of the city’s disposition materialized when the city council proposed a head count tax on high earning businesses. The move would charge an estimated 2,200 businesses 5.2 cents per hour per employee, totaling $100 annually per worker.
The city is making a mistake when it comes across as anti-business, Smith contends.
“I think not having them here will have a negative impact because there is a lot of need for additional jobs in the Seattle area.”
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Maud Daudon said in an online statement that the city was “fortunate” to host companies like Amazon, and Seattle should do whatever it takes to keep world-class businesses in the region.
She called Amazon’s announcement not to consider Seattle to be a “wake-up call” for the region.
“It is my sincere hope that…(we) put aside our differences and unite around efforts to remain competitive to employers like Amazon. This means intentionally improving our overall business climate, and changing attitudes about the amazing employers and access to jobs we are fortunate to have.”
In the fall, members of the Seattle city council, state lawmakers, port leadership and academic representatives sent a letter to Amazon asking the company to revisit its mutually beneficial relationship with the city.
“We understand there are many reasons for your decision to potentially site HQ2 in a different city. To the extent that this decision was based on Amazon feeling unwelcome in Seattle, or not being include in some of our regional decisions, we would like to hit the refresh button,” read the letter.
Seattle stakeholders continued saying the company may have received mixed messages from the community and elected officials, but that they hope Amazon will stay to grow together within Seattle as well as cities across Washington.
The letter’s signers suggested creating a task force consisting of large and small businesses, and representatives from schools, labor and local government. The team would focus on improving concerns within transportation, freight mobility, safety, public health investments and educational opportunities.
At the end of November, Amazon’s Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman responded by thanking Seattle stakeholders for reaching out to rekindle the relationship.
“With over 40,000 employees, we recognize our unique position as the city’s largest private employer,” he wrote.
“We estimate our investment in Seattle from 2010 through 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city’s economy and, with your leadership, public resources derived from this activity have supported important city priorities like homelessness programs, transit services, and public health and safety initiatives.”
Huseman added it would be open to working more closely with the city moving forward.
“We propose a roundtable discussion in January at our offices to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for the city and how we can best work together on them. If you are amenable, we will work with you to schedule a convenient time for the meeting,” he added.
Even so, Smith said Amazon taking jobs elsewhere could hurt the local economy and create a stigma for business looking to move to Seattle.
“They will look at what Amazon announced and think maybe Seattle isn’t somewhere we should be moving to.”
Yet, Smith said he is hopeful with Mayor Durkan taking office.
“She will look at some pro-business policies, and so I think that is a good opportunity for the Seattle area because there has been a lot of anti-business sentiment from the city council. I hope she’ll make it a priority to talk to business rather than to wait until it’s too late.”