ARLINGTON, Va. – Amazon has made a more prosaic choice than the hype originally promised, naming New York City and the Washington, D.C. suburban county of Arlington, Virginia, as the two areas that will divvy up the 50,000 high-paying jobs the online retail giant is expected to bring.  

The announcement Tuesday comes after 14 months of intense jockeying by more than 230 cities vying to take home the glittering prize of becoming the home of Amazon’s second headquarters.

Instead, Amazon chose two areas that have long been considered front-runners, even among the 20 finalists announced on Jan. 18. 

While Amazon’s request for proposals listed multiple requirements, including tax incentives and a business-friendly environment, in the end the whole reason for the exercise was to aid the Seattle-based company in hiring the best and the brightest talent to keep up its ferocious pace of innovation – even as other tech companies are pushing equally hard to hire those same workers.

New York City and the greater D.C. area both fit that bill admirably, said Jeffrey Shulman, a professor at the University of Washington’s school of business who studies Amazon’s effect on Seattle.

“Both of those cities are attractive places to live where they have both a talent pool and the cultural amenities that make someone willing to uproot their lives and move there,” he said. And naming two rather than just one new headquarters gives the company an edge, he explained. “People who want to work at Amazon will now have three cities to choose from rather than one or two,” he said.

More: Amazon HQ2 timeline: The winners are New York City and Arlington, Virginia

More: Amazon HQ2: Pros and cons of it coming to your city

D.C., the front-runner

The Washington, D.C. metro area emerged as an odds-on favorite to land Amazon’s second U.S. headquarters when it landed three spots among the 20 finalists when the company narrowed its list of candidate sites in January: Montgomery County, Maryland; Northern Virginia (Loudoun and Fairfax counties); and Washington, D.C. itself.

That resulted in nine proposed building sites within a 28-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol.

As the seat of the nation’s government, Washington stands out among the potential sites. The area’s public transportation system and its white-collar, well-educated workforce are strengths. And its location in the Eastern Time Zone makes it good for staying in touch with subsidiaries across the Atlantic. Founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post newspaper, recently purchased a $23 million mansion in the area, the largest private residence in the nation’s capital.

“Then you put Bezos having a house here and owning The Post and increasingly needing to influence federal policy, this isn’t a bad place to be,” said economist Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy and regional development and director of the Fuller Institute at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Still, Northern Virginia stood out as the prime choice in the region for its tech-centric surroundings. A crossroads of the internet, the region has countless data centers where tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Salesforce connect. Amazon Web Services itself has 29 individual data centers in Northern Virginia. And Loudoun County, where most of the data centers are located, claims that 70 percent of all global Internet traffic flows through it.

Arlington county and the City of Alexandria, after working together for the last year in a unique and unprecedented regional partnership, said Amazon would locate in National Landing, a newly branded neighborhood encompassing parts of Pentagon City and Crystal City in Arlington county and Potomac Yard in Alexandria. 

The case for New York

Probably highest on Amazon’s list of must-haves is access to tech and other talent. The New York metro area has close to 1.3 million workers in the relevant fields of management, business, finance, math, public relations and sales.

New York is also a magnet for young professionals, who prize urban areas, rich culture and vibrant arts scenes. In addition, it has a massive, if somewhat beleaguered, transit system. 

And it’s a large enough city that adding another 25,000 highly paid workers won’t seriously distort the job market in the ways they might have in smaller cities such as Raleigh, North Carolina, or Columbus, Ohio. 

While housing in New York City overall is tight, the area Amazon is reportedly homing in on Long Island City at the western edge of the borough of Queens, which has been on an apartment-building spree. A total of 41 new apartment buildings have been built in the area over the past eight years, with 12,533 apartments by 2017, according to RentCafe. 

Not everyone was thrilled at the announcement. Multiple New York politicians questioned whether Amazon should even be allowed in the city, given the package of incentives it took to get the company there.

“Offering massive corporate welfare from scare public resources to one of the wealthiest corporations in the world at a time of great need in our state is just wrong. The burden should not be on the 99 percent to prove we are worthy of the 1 percent’s presence in our communities, but rather on Amazon to prove it would be a responsible corporate neighbor,” wrote New York state Sen. Michael Gianaris and New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in a statement.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York activist and Democrat who was recently elected to represent the 14th Congressional district covering the Bronx and Queens, tweeted that residents in Queens were “outraged” at the announcement that Amazon was coming to their neighborhood.

On Twitter, she said the questions that needed to be asked included, “Has the company promised to hire in the existing community? – What’s the quality of jobs + how many are promised? Are these jobs low-wage or high wage? Are there benefits? Can people collectively bargain?”

Queens resident Joe Conde, 40, said while welcoming Amazon was a good idea, he didn’t know where they’re going to put it.

“Long Island City is congested as it is already. I don’t know how on earth more people can fit. I guess it could be good to bring more jobs, but the traffic is already bad enough around here with all the construction and new residents,” he said.

Nashville gets a nod

Amazon also announced it is investing $230 million in Nashville, Tennessee, and adding 5,000 jobs at a new operations site.

The new Amazon site will be located at Nashville Yards, located downtown. The new site, dubbed the Operations Center of Excellence, will be responsible for the company’s customer fulfillment, transportation, supply chain and other similar activities. 

Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz emphasized the high wages as a win for Nashville and said he expects the company to hire from the middle Tennessee region. He said 5,000 jobs is a “pretty good fit” compared to the 50,000 jobs the city was initialing pursuing as a second headquarters.

“It would have been a challenge over time,” he said. “The 5,000 is a good fit in lots of ways, not just in size.”

The search process

The search began on Sept. 7, 2017, when Amazon announced it was looking for a second headquarters, one that would be co-equal to its Seattle home. It posted a request for proposals outlining what information and attributes it was looking for. 

Such an open process for an economic development proposal is rare, as these searches are usually done in secrecy and only announced once a site has been chosen. Amazon instead made its requirements public and let the offers roll in.

The prospect of investment and bragging rights from securing what’s now the world’s most valuable company pitted tiny cities against metropolises, each striving to convince the Seattle company it had the right workers, transportation, culture and tax breaks. It was an effort built for the age of social media, when everything takes place in public and there is constant jockeying for top billing. 

In the end, 238 cities sent in proposals by the Oct. 19, 2017, deadline. 

On Jan. 18, 2018, a shortlist of 20 finalists was announced. The cities and areas were Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Northern Virginia (Loudoun and Fairfax counties); Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, North Carolina; Toronto; and Washington, D.C.

A team from the company visited each of the finalists in the spring and summer of 2018, then spent the next months crunching numbers and doing due-diligence checks in a tightly controlled process.

While all 20 cities were eager for the jobs and investment the headquarters will bring, detractors, who dubbed the process a “race to the bottom,” argued cities offered enormous tax credits and other incentives to entice Amazon, with little proof that the city would come out ahead. Some residents worried that the influx of highly paid tech workers would worsen commutes and drive up already steep housing prices. 

Almost none of the finalist cities told the public – or even their local city councils – the dollar amounts. This is legal because most of the deals were put together by local development agencies.

Contributing: Dalvin Brown in New York City for USA TODAY, Jamie McGee at the Nashville Tennessean.

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