News & Politics

DC, Montgomery County, and Northern Virginia Make Amazon’s Shortlist for Second Headquarters

Image via Amazon.

The Amazon sweepstakes just got a lot more real Thursday when the retail and web-services giant shortened the list of locations it’s considering for its second headquarters to 20 places across the United States and Canada. And the Washington metropolitan area looks to be a strong contender, with DC, Montgomery County, and Northern Virginia all making the cut as individual bidders.

The list includes other expected contenders, including New York, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, Chicago, and Toronto, the lone Canadian city to make the cut. In total, Amazon considered 238 proposals in response to its request last September for proposals from jurisdictions interested in hosting a complex that the company says will eventually be on par with its home base in Seattle. The company says it plans to invest $5 billion and hire as many as 50,000 people at its new site.

From the start, Amazon was clear that it would not bring its largesse to a new city without sufficiently greased skids. Financial incentives offered by prospective host cities, the company stated in its original solicitation, would be “significant factors in the decision-making process.” But since they started dashing together their best pitches, cities, counties, and states kept details of their bids opaque, and largely free of dollar figures—at least to their residents, who instead were encouraged to get behind civic-booster campaigns urging Amazon to pick their location.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser was one of the first big-city mayors to put a public face on her city’s pursuit, starring in a series of YouTube videos featuring her speaking to one of the company’s Echo devices about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos‘s existing connections to the city—namely his ownership of the Washington Post and a Kalorama mansion. While the District went public with the four locations around town it suggested to Amazon, it kept almost all the other details under wraps. It later came out, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that Bowser’s administration paid a consulting firm nearly $140,000 to cobble together the city’s proposal and associated marketing campaign.

But most other details about DC’s and other jurisdictions’ bids have stayed under wraps. WAMU, after repeated open-records requests to city officials, only just found out broad details about the kinds of income- and property-tax breaks Amazon would receive. The suburbs have been even more withholding; Montgomery County redacted 11 pages of its proposal, including all information pertaining to financial incentives and tax holidays, Bethesda Magazine reports. Meanwhile, officials in Northern Virginia have managed to say even less, and have not responded to any of Washingtonian‘s requests filed under the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act. (To add one more wrinkle to matters, it is unclear if Amazon’s inclusion of “Northern Virginia” refers to the bid submitted by Arlington County, the joint proposal from Fairfax and Loudoun counties, or both.)

Whatever incentive figures local leaders aren’t disclosing, they’re likely to be staggering if the Washington area wants to land Amazon’s second headquarters, considering incentive packages revealed in other cities either through records requests or officials’ open boasts. The Seattle Times reported last November that $1.32 billion of the $2.25 billion Chicago would offer Amazon would come from a “personal income-tax diversion,” in essence allowing the company to recoup the state and local taxes paid by the workers it would hire there. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie and US Senator Cory Booker teamed up last fall to announce a $7 billion incentive package the Garden State would offer Amazon as a welcoming gift. On Thursday, Newark made the shortlist.

The full list:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin, Texas
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Indianapolis
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Montgomery County
  • Nashville, Tennesse
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • New York
  • Northern Virginia
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Toronto
  • Washington

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.