News & Politics

UPDATED: Cities’ Appeals to Amazon, Ranked

Photograph courtesy City of Birmingham.

It’s been a little more than three weeks since Amazon announced it plans to build a second global headquarters somewhere in North America. And in that time, mayors and business development officials in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas across the continent have stumbled over themselves to explain why their municipalities are the best spot for the world’s third-largest retailer and biggest web host.

The benefits, according to Amazon, should tantalize any civic official. Based off figures from its main campus in Seattle, an Amazon headquarters could create as many as 50,000 direct jobs, boost indirect employment by 53,000, and create $38 billion in economic activity. All it takes is the right jurisdiction offering the biggest tax incentive in living memory. Responses to Amazon’s request for proposals are due back October 19.

Yet wooing Amazon will take more than just some creative financing concocted in back rooms in city halls. Many potential future Amazon homes know that—like an Olympic bid—they need to gin up support from the masses. And so the cities are launching social-media campaigns. Mayors are talking to their Echo devices! People are posing with Amazon boxes! And the hashtags! So many hashtags.

But, not all civic pride campaigns are created equally. Some are quite strong, while others are derivative, weird, underhanded, or just plain half-assed. Here are nine of the more active Amazon appeals, scored with parcel emojis (?).

1. Birmingham, Alabama

The Yellowhammer state might be on the verge of sending a mirthless theocrat to the US Senate, but its largest city has put together an strong campaign suggesting it might be modern enough to land an innovative corporation of Amazon’s stature. Unlike other hopefuls, Mayor William Bell has not cut a video in which he reprograms Alexa to repeat the name of his city. Instead, Birmingham and surrounding Jefferson County teamed up to commission the construction of three giant replicas of an Amazon box, which were placed around town so Birminghamians can pose for photos with them. The associated hashtag, #bringatob, isn’t bad either, and certainly more memorable than others on the list. Even the video is solid: no narration, just 15 seconds of aerial shots of Birmingham decorated with its oversized Amazon boxes.

Score: ????????

2. DC

A video, website, and hashtag. The website, with the forgettable URL is little more than a placeholder for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s letter to constituents explaining the city’s interest in Amazon. The video, though, lays out the District’s pitch much more. It features Bowser reading the Washington Post’s coverage of Amazon’s RFP and rattling off reasons why DC is a good landing spot for the commerce and web-hosting giant. “Jeff”—apparently the mayor and the Amazon CEO are on a first-name basis—“already owns a house here.” But the video also raises questions. It begins with a shot of one of those creepy delivery robots rolling by Bowser’s office. Are those things just prowling the John A. Wilson Building, sowing the way for the robot uprising? And how did Bowser program her Echo device to respond “Obviously, Washington, DC” when she asks where Amazon should build its second headquarters?

The District’s hashtag is also problematic. #ObviouslyDC matches the video’s kicker, and while city officials are using it to show off DC’s compatibility with Amazon’s needs, it can be subverted quite easily by people seeking to express their displeasure with Bowser’s administration.

Still, it’s one of the stronger campaigns any city has put together, and reflects the fact the Washington metropolitan area—if not the District itself—is one of Amazon’s strongest suitors. On October 16, DC’s case got a bit stronger when Bowser’s office proposed four parts of the city where Amazon could settle down: NoMa, Shaw and Howard University, the Anacostia riverfront, and Hill East. is still a mess of a URL, but it’s good to get some specificity.

Score: ???????

3. Philadelphia

Philadelphia, a large city located north of Washington, also thinks it has a chance of landing Amazon’s second headquarters. You won’t see Mayor Jim Kenney asking Alexa where Amazon should build its new office campus, but Kenney’s office did produce a pair of videos featuring Philadelphia businesspeople talking about why their city is a hub for logistics and management. There’s also a #PhillyDelivers hashtag campaign afoot, which appears to be getting some buy-in from local transit authority SEPTA. Kenney’s office also put up a blackboard outside City Hall for people to scratch down their reasons why Amazon should choose Philadelphia. The mayor’s suggestion? “The Sound of Philadelphia,” a 1974 instrumental track by the soul group MFSB. (Perhaps someone else already jotted in Patti LaBelle and The Roots? Or is Kenney counting on Bezos being a secret fan of Philadelphia soul?)

Still, Philadelphia’s campaign is surprisingly strong. The only reason it’s not higher is that in one participant in the promotional videos, Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb, kind of undercuts the whole pitch. “The other thing that’s fantastic,” McNabb says, “is that we’re close to New York and we’re close to Washington. I spend a lot of time in DC on policy issues.” Damn it, Bill, if you spend so much time in DC, why bother with Philadelphia at all. You just gave the game away.

Score: ??????

4. Danbury, Connecticut

The New York exurb known best for its large shopping mall and federal prison that serves as the inspiration for Orange Is the New Black was one of the first municipalities to jump into the Amazon sweepstakes, when Mayor Mark Boughton posted his own snazzy video about why the company should set down roots in the 85,000-person city. Boughton’s video opts for electric-guitar riffs over panoramic shots of Danbury, accompanied by statements about the city’s business climate (it’s the best in Connecticut!) and its “fast and efficient” permit process. It ends with Boughton standing up from behind his desk, walking past a stack of Amazon Prime boxes, and asking his own Echo device where Amazon should build its new headquarters. This time, Alexa says “Danbury.”

Danbury’s video dropped a full day before DC’s, which makes Bowser’s Alexa interaction a bit derivative. But other than the  video, we haven’t heard much else from Boughton, which isn’t great for Danbury’s prospects heading toward Amazon’s October 19 deadline.

Score: ?????

5. Pittsburgh

The ‘Burgh’s pursuit of Amazon has been one of the lower-profile bids, but that doesn’t mean Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald aren’t playing the inside game. Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, Peduto and Fitzgerald scored a private conference call with an Amazon executive who will be reviewing cities’ and states’ proposals for the HQ2 project. Erie, a rusty city in the northwest haunches of Pennsylvania, is backing Pittsburgh in hopes of picking up some of those inevitable economic-development crumbs. There isn’t a big social-media or viral-video component to go along with all this, but the campaign might have gotten a bit of juice yesterday when the Primanti Bros. chain offered a free sandwich (served with fries right inside the bread) to every Amazon employee who comes to work in Pittsburgh.

Score: ?????+?

6. Newark, New Jersey

This could be ranked higher. As tempting as it is to bury New Jersey for being New Jersey, you have to credit Governor Chris Christie and Mayor Ras Baraka for acknowledging that the Amazon sweepstakes is really about who can come up with the most generous incentive package. Not only did Christie and Baraka come in with the unvarnished truth, they came in with a huge number: $7 billion in state and city financing! That’s crazy! You could buy the Nets back from Brooklyn for that, with enough money left over for a Bruce Springsteen theme park. If only Christie and Baraka matched their money with a bit of excitement. Instead, they—plus Senator Cory Booker—offered a bland announcement in some dimly lit conference room.

Score: ???+??

7. Frisco, Texas

Again with the mayor talking to Alexa? Enter Mayor Jeff Cheney, tossing a football as he walks across the Dallas Cowboys’ practice field before the video cuts to a skateboarder sliding down a handrail. OK, Frisco. We get it. You have teens and your city government coughed up $115 million to help build a training facility and corporate headquarters for America’s Team. What else is going on in Frisco? At various points, Cheney holds up an Amazon box, visits a Jamba Juice (like they don’t have smoothie chains in Seattle), and asks his Echo device where Amazon should move. The video also recycles three-year-old footage of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saying he’d caught the “Frisco Flu” when explaining why the Cowboys were building in Frisco, which sits about 30 miles outside Dallas. Is that contagious? Cheney certainly hopes so, but Amazon might want to consult an immunologist before engaging with Frisco.

Score: ???

8. Charlotte, North Carolina

Leaders in the Tar Heel State’s largest city responded to Amazon’s headquarters search by creating a hashtag, #CLTIsPrime, and similarly titled Twitter and Instagram accounts, on the assumption that Charlotte’s citizenry would supply most of the content. So far, the results are pretty dreary. There’s no groundswell of user-created social media urging Amazon to consider Charlotte, and the official accounts haven’t put out anything inspiring. Just a cheap Instagram slideshow of Charlotte’s skyline and a YouTube clip about how Charlotte Douglas International Airport is getting a video-art installation.

As someone who’s changed planes in Charlotte a few dozen times, I can assure you that a wall-sized screensaver is not going to improve the traveling experience. (A few more of those rocking chairs in the concourse might be nice, though.) Also, a lot of things can be prime: time, cuts of beef, interest rates, Deion Sanders. Charlotte? Not so much.

Score: ?

9. Denton, Texas

Another satellite city of Dallas wants in on the Amazon horserace. But Denton’s campaign so far is not much of anything. Sure, there are some tweets and Instagram posts with a hashtag, the unwieldy #HQ2DentonTX. But that’s about it. The most recent tweet to use the tag is an advertisement for an outdoor screening of Space Jam. What does that have to do with Amazon? Who knows? But, Denton, right now you’re just playing yourself. You can’t even measure up to your neighbors in Frisco, and they’re trying to ply Amazon with old footage of Jerry Jones and freaking Jamba Juice!

Score: ?

10. Tucson, Arizona

Not long after Amazon issued its RFP, Sun Corridor, a Tucson business-development group, ripped a 21-foot saguaro cactus from the desert and loaded it on a flatbed truck bound for Seattle as a dowry for Bezos. Amazon, perhaps knowing that saguaros can only be removed with a permit from the Arizona Department of Agriculture, rejected the gift and donated the cactus to Tucson’s Desert Museum, where it will presumably be replanted.

I don’t care how many people tell me that Arizona’s weather is a comfortable “dry heat.” Tucson, you are losing several boxes for attempted bribery and a cavalier attitude toward desert horticulture.

Score: ?

11. Haverhill, Massachusetts

Meet Mayor James J. Fiorentini, who seems like a nice guy trying to run this former mill town on the North Shore of Massachusetts. In one of his recent “Minute With the Mayor” videos, Fiorentini announces to his constituents his interest in landing “the Amazon company, which you all know from their mail-ordah business.” Oh, man. How could you ever show your face in Dunkin’ Donuts again after that intro?

Score: ?

12. New York

Maybe everyone thought New York was a frontrunner to land Amazon’s second headquarters for the fact that it’s New York City: bursting with life, full of culture, speaking every language on the planet, the center of the known universe. But maybe we gave New York too generous a head start, because check out this announcement from the New York City Economic Development Corporation: “Tonight, October 18th, several key New York City landmarks and venues will light up in ‘Amazon Orange’ as a show of support for the City’s official bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.”

Said landmarks and venues include One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Bloomberg LP building, and LinkNYC wifi kiosks around the five boroughs. Lighting the city in “Amazon Orange?” This is just sad. Besides, between the Mets, Knicks, and the President, haven’t New Yorkers suffered enough at the hands of orange-colored things?

Score: ?

13. Hamilton, Ontario

This sleepy city of 536,000 on the western tip of Lake Ontario hasn’t really started its seduction of Amazon, according to the overture Mayor Fred Eisenberger‘s office released on Wednesday. Billed as “A warm hello from the City of Hamilton!” the video features Eisenberger saying that “in the coming days,” Amazon will be hearing more about why it should build its second headquarters there. But does Hamilton have a business-friendly climate? Does it have enough space for 50,000 workers spread across 8 million square feet? Is there adequate infrastructure for a company that wants on-site public transportation? Eisenberger’s not saying! “For now,” he offers, “enjoy the view!”

Unfortunately, Hamilton’s account turned off embedding on the video, so you have to click through to see the admittedly nice view. Still, got to come in heavier than that if the essence of your pitch is “Hey, come to Ontario. No, not Toronto.” Especially if you’re the Buffalo of Canada. (Just kidding, the Buffalo of Canada is Buffalo.)

Score: ?

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.