Hold the phone, Colorado! Denver has not been ruled out as a possibility for Amazon’s second headquarters after all.
Despite reports from East Coast newspapers naming New York and Virginia as the next Amazon HQ2, Colorado officials said they just heard from Amazon that no decisions have been made.
“Our source is Amazon themselves,” said Sam Bailey, who has been overseeing Colorado’s bid for HQ2 since Sept. 7, 2017, the day it was announced. “I don’t want to get into specifics of the communication, but yesterday morning (Nov. 6, 2018), Amazon confirmed that Colorado has not been disqualified from Amazon HQ2.”
Bailey said he and Amazon have been in communication all year, but he wouldn’t say whether he called Amazon or the company called him. He doesn’t want anything to jeopardize Denver’s chances. He spoke to Amazon Tuesday solely about whether Denver was still under consideration as the future site for Amazon’s $5 billion investment in a second headquarters that could house 50,000 nicely paid employees.
“For us, it means maintaining our focus that if Amazon were to select our region for the entirety of the project, a portion of the project or a future investment, we need to stay ready for that,” said Bailey, vice president of economic development for Metro Denver Economic Development Council. “What’s also important is that even if Amazon HQ2 were to land in a competing community, there are follow-on investments that we would not want to jeopardize, such as a data center, divisional offices or more. We never want to miss an opportunity for growth or for follow-on investment.”
Amazon officials declined to comment for this story. Amazon has previously said it would announce the HQ2 city in 2018, which leaves less than two months.
The Seattle company made its desires very public when it announced plans to expand with a nearly identical headquarters outside of its existing hometown. The HQ2 frenzy began, and 238 cities or regions made a bid, offering a variety of office locations and generous incentives — which some complain are unnecessary. Colorado officials have said they offered what they were allowed by state law, with existing job-growth tax incentives in excess of $100 million.
Twenty finalists, including Denver, were selected in January. Amazon has remained nearly silent on HQ2 ever since.
A team of 10 people from Amazon did visit Denver for three days in late January and early February. But Bailey would not say whether the company has made a second official visit. Amazon reportedly made second visits to other finalist cities including Chicago, Miami, New York, the Washington, D.C. area and Newark, New Jersey, according to local media reports.
And then earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon planned to pick two locations instead of one, and split the workforce in two equal offices. The report also said Amazon was in late-stage discussions with communities in Dallas, a neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Crystal City in Northern Virginia. The same day, The New York Times said HQ2 would be in Queens and Crystal City.
The main thing missing from much of this week’s coverage was any mention of Denver. Except for this: Some in Colorado, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, appear to have given up on HQ2. He told Colorado Public Radio in October, “I think there’s a possibility we’re not in the running.”
His rationale? ”Wouldn’t they rather have their second big hub on the East Coast?”
Other local supporters have not lost hope.
Bryan Leach, CEO of Denver mobile-shopping app Ibotta, was part of a group that launched “Colorado Loves Amazon.” Leach was also among a select group of Denver business people who met with Amazon officials when they toured the city last winter.
“From the conversations I’ve had with them, they were favorably impressed with Denver’s bid. I therefore think Denver will be part of Amazon’s future, regardless of whether we are one of the top two cities chosen in this phase,” Leach said. “They gathered data on cities with a view toward understanding their expansion and talent recruitment strategies for the next half century. I think ‘HQ2’ was just the tip of the iceberg in that respect.”
Whether or not Amazon picks Denver, Leach said the city and state need to step up and address area growth by investing in local schools and universities, transportation and infrastructure and ensure growth is environmentally sustainable.
“It’s also always a good exercise for any city to build the muscle of gathering data about the best parts of Denver’s economy, to rally business and community leaders together behind a common effort, and to understand the gaps and investments that we must make to support our growth, regardless of whether any one company comes to town,” he said.
Amazon has also expanded in Colorado this year, from its newly opened third warehouse in Thornton to the nation’s second Amazon 4-star store, which opened last week inside the Park Meadows mall in Lone Tree. The company also opened an advertising office in Boulder in August, bringing its area employee base to about 2,250 people.
But the thought of more people worries Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, which strives for sustainability. He promotes compact and connected growth, such as developing more duplexes and triplexes, and connecting communities better through public transit so people can easily walk to the grocery store, bike to school or take a bus to work.
“Not particular to Amazon, but if Denver was going to be rewarded, the frame around Amazon is there’s going to be 50,000 jobs. Of course that means more people and for a community like Denver, that puts pressure on our transportation system, our housing and growth,” he said. “We need to make sure how we’re growing is compact and connected. That’s really the best way to reduce the overall carbon footprint.”
With or without Amazon HQ2, the momentum of the local startup and technology communities will move on, said Erik Mitisek, co-founder of Denver Startup Week and president of IMAgine Analytics, which is part of the financial services company IMA Financial Group.
“I believe Colorado is and has risen to a level of attractiveness not because of its participation in the HQ2 process but because of the strength of our innovation community and the amazing companies that are here,” Mitisek said. “Most importantly, it’s the talent that continues to migrate here and be engaged and work with these amazing companies. Denver is a really hot innovation city because it’s one of the greatest innovation economies in the world.”
Still, he added, should Amazon pick Denver, “The tech community would welcome any expansion of that.”