Why (blank) is the best city for Amazon Publisher's Notebook

One need scan only a few headlines to figure out that the selection of a site for a new Amazon headquarters won’t be based on purely objective criteria.

Within a month of the Seattle-based company’s Sept. 7 announcement that it would seek proposals for a second, co-equal headquarters location — potentially employing 50,000 people and encompassing 8 million square feet — articles began appearing from New York to Grand Rapids, Mich., about why one city or another is the ideal choice for the $5 billion investment.

The New York Times got the ball rolling, Sept. 9, with an article headlined, “Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for You.” That article purported to examine all of Amazon’s criteria for the new location. Its conclusion? The obvious choice is Denver:

“So Denver it is,” the article reads, after eliminating other cities based on Amazon’s criteria. “The city’s lifestyle and affordability, coupled with the supply of tech talent from nearby universities, has already helped build a thriving start-up scene in Denver and Boulder, 40 minutes away. Big tech companies, including Google, Twitter, Oracle and I.B.M., have offices in the two cities. Denver has been attracting college graduates at an even faster rate than the largest cities. The region has the benefits of places like San Francisco and Seattle — outdoor recreation, microbreweries, diversity and a culture of inclusion (specifically cited by Amazon) — but the cost of living is still low enough to make it affordable, and lots of big-city refugees have been moving there for this reason. Amazon would be smart to follow them.”

Not so fast, say other pundits.

Anderson Economic Group touts New York as the logical choice, with Chicago at No. 2 and Denver finishing No. 16.

Washingtonian magazine picks Birmingham, Ala., as the No. 1 prospect.

Hold on, though. GeekWire performed its own analysis, designating Toronto as the No. 1 choice, with Denver coming in at No. 12.

Other options? How about Grand Rapids, Mich., says Scott Brew, CEO of Adtegrity Inc., in “An open letter to Jeff Bezos: Amazon needs Grand Rapids,” published in MiBiz.

Not everyone has jumped on the “homer” bandwagon, however. Hats off to The (Philadelphia) Inquirer, which tossed cold water on any hopes that the City of Brotherly Love had for landing the HQ, with a story headlined, “Yo, Philly! We crunched the numbers and we’re not Amazon’s prime location”.

Of course, one could take the approach of Business Insider and list several potential candidates, including Atlanta; Cincinnati; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio; Austin; and, yes, Denver.

But how could so many “objective” appraisals of Amazon’s best options yield such disparate results? It’s simply reflective of the age-old adage that different people can interpret the same numbers in very different ways. I’m reminded of the old joke that you could lay every economist in the world end to end, and they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. You could also map every expert’s choice for Amazon’s HQ2 and probably cover pretty much every metropolitan area in the country.

So where will Amazon end up? Personally, I suspect that Amazon’s new HQ will land … drumroll, please … wherever Jeff Bezos wants it to be.

Christopher Wood is editor and publisher of BizWest. Reach him at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwest.com.