When Amazon announced plans to build a second headquarters that will employ 50,000 people, speculation immediately began over what cities can seriously compete for such a project.
Amazon’s only real prerequisite is that it needed a metropolitan area of at least 1 million people, meaning that about 50 or so metro areas in the United States and a handful more in Canada could be in the running.
But only a handful of cities truly have a chance for what would be a transformative, $5 billion project for most urban areas in North America, according to experts and media outlets. They cite Amazon’s needs for up to 8 million square feet of space along with a strong high-tech labor force, low costs and potentially billions of dollar in incentives.
And while Columbus is expected to make a bid for the project — state and local officials are officially mum on the matter — the region doesn’t figure to be at the top of most lists.
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“Columbus would not be a top city that comes to mind,” said Aaron Renn, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank in New York. “Having said that, if Amazon picks Columbus, it wouldn’t seem like a completely ludicrous decision.”
The fact that Columbus is home to 20,000 JPMorgan Chase & Co. employees and contractors shows the region can support a large private company, he said. Costs are low, and the region has strong universities and a business-friendly environment.
But there are a lot of unknowns that figure to play significant roles in Amazon’s decision, he said.
Does it want an urban location or a suburban one? Does it want to be king of the city or is it willing to accept a lesser role like it would in New York City? How much does it want in incentives and what cities can afford that? How important are low costs? How close does the city need to be to Amazon’s Seattle home? How much politics will play in the location?
From Renn’s perspective, major metro areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Washington can accommodate large employers. Other strong contenders include Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta and maybe Denver. Detroit could be a dark horse candidate, he said.
Columbus would figure to be in the next batch of cities, along with Charlotte, Nashville and Austin. Cleveland has shown it can accommodate a large employer, namely, the Cleveland Clinic, Renn said. Published reports peg its employee total in Cuyahoga county at more than 30,000.
Other reports have different top-candidate lists. The Seattle Times’ list includes Austin, Boston, Denver, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
CBS News put Columbus on a list of 26 cities that could qualify because at least a third of the population of each of these metros holds a bachelor’s degree.
Still, it is hard to see what Columbus has to offer that makes it different from other similarly-size cities that would make the city stand out, Renn said.
“Columbus, Ohio, is already a city on the way up. This is a city that should keep winning in the future,” he said. “The trends are very good for Columbus.”