January 18, 2018 / 11:38 PM / a year ago

Breakingviews - Amazon HQ2 choices disappointingly undisruptive

Amazon.com's logo is seen at Amazon Japan's office building in Tokyo, Japan, August 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Amazon has disrupted great swaths of the U.S. retailing landscape, but it’s choosing not to break the mold with its second headquarters. The e-commerce giant has cut the field of candidates to 20 prime locations to complement its Seattle base, including Dallas, Atlanta and New York. Hundreds of cities hoped Amazon would think outside the box, but a desire for talent and a welcoming environment led it to the usual hot spots.

The company led by Jeff Bezos started the process in typically innovative fashion last September by issuing an unusual and very public request for proposals. Fully 238 localities in the United States, Canada and Mexico submitted bids, lured by the prospect of $5 billion in investment and a promised 50,000 jobs with total compensation averaging over $100,000 each.

Distressed cities like Detroit and Hartford, Connecticut, marshaled civic and business leaders to make their case, seeing the investment as a chance to transform their economic prospects. New Jersey’s former governor, Chris Christie, dressed up Newark’s bid with $7 billion in potential tax breaks. The contest even prompted the mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, to rename the town Amazon and make Bezos mayor for life if he would choose his town.

With the exception of Newark, most have come away empty-handed. That’s not a surprise given Amazon’s criteria of a large metropolitan area, a strong pool of technical talent, a business-friendly environment and good transportation links. But it’s disappointing that with the exception of a couple of outsiders like Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, the company’s finalists – which also include Los Angeles, Austin, Toronto, Boston, and the suburbs of Washington, D.C. - are just about everyone else’s too.

A conventional choice will no doubt serve Amazon well. Meanwhile, the innovative ideas the bidding process inspired among politicians and business executives around the country might just prompt other companies to think further outside the box.


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