Amazon author sizes up St. Louis' chances for second HQ | St. Louis Public Radio

Amazon author sizes up St. Louis' chances for second HQ

Sep 25, 2017

With St. Louis and St. Clair County planning to jump into the battle to become Amazon's second North American headquarters, many people are asking if the region has a legitimate shot to land an anticipated 50,000 jobs. Bigger cities including Chicago, Boston and Toronto have also shown interest, but the author of what might be the definitive book on how Amazon does business believes it's too soon to rule out any potential location.

Brad Stone's book "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and The Age of Amazon" was published in 2013. It tells the story of how Amazon grew from a startup online bookstore in 1995 to an internet retail giant. Since the book was written, Amazon's owner has acquired The Washington Post and the company purchased the Whole Foods grocery chain.

The time that Stone put into the book gives him some perspective on how Amazon might make its decision for that second headquarters, known as HQ2.

 

Does St. Louis have a chance?

All interested cities still have a shot at this point, according to Stone. Access to high-profile universities is a key factor and a school like Washington University is a key asset. The Seattle-based company is likely looking for some geographical balance, Stone said. That would make a Midwest location attractive. Potential favorites are considered to be on the East Coast, including Washington, D.C., and Boston. "But I would certainly not count St. Louis out," he said.

How important are tax incentives to Amazon?

"I think that's a big part of it," Stone said. He added that it's similar to a sports team trying to get a new stadium. It's looking for the best economic deal. A potential reliance on tax breaks could eliminate some leading locations. 

One of Amazon's two warehouses in Edwardsville. The company says both operations employ about 2,000.
Credit File photo | Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

There are some groups in Boston whose leaders that don't think incentives should be offered. But another element could be what Stone described as a welcoming environment, where a community would be open to possible further expansion. Some in Seattle point to a negative impact on quality of life and home prices, Stone said.

What are some of the intangibles that could help an underdog city?

Amazon tends to prefer more urban environments, unlike other technology giants like Google and Facebook which gravitate toward suburban locations. "I think potential construction in the city center is going to be one factor, " Stone said during a recent interview. An ideal workforce is another element that could be key in landing the headquarters. The company is looking for young, talented professionals with strong computer skills, but there is a certain mentality that goes with a job at Amazon. "It's an intense lifestyle. They work pretty hard, they get pushed pretty hard. And so I think they'll also be looking for a kind of hunger in the workforce."

Who wins?

"It's a big crapshoot," said Stone, who is also the senior executive editor for technology at Bloomberg News. 

Stone has also written about Uber, Airbnb, Costco and Apple. He also worked at The New York Times.
Credit Brad-Stone.com

He guesses that an East Coast city with a community of technical employees could be leading the race. But officials in St. Louis and other parts of the region should not give up hope. "Amazon loves to surprise people. And anything is possible, so I wouldn't count anyone out."

The online retailer wants proposals from interested cities by Oct. 19, which doesn't leave much time to put together a plan that will convince company leaders to choose St. Louis, or another spot in the region, over more high-profile tech centers such as Boston or the Washington, D.C. area.

It will be a big win for any city. The estimated 50,000 jobs would have an average salary of more than $100,000, according to Amazon's Request for Proposals. The announcement of the home for HQ2 is expected to be made next year.

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