When the news dropped last week that Amazon had reached a decision on its new HQ2 sites after a yearlong search, the locations were hardly surprising. After all, New York City is the economic capital of the country, while Northern Virginia sits just outside the seat of government and already a place of interest for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos through his ownership of The Washington Post.
Indeed, land speculation, anticipation and fear were under way in both regions well before the announcement. And while splitting the East Coast location into two hubs halved the impact of new workers to a “mere” 25,000, it is natural for those who have watched the rapid expansion of Northern Virginia in recent years to have concerns.
Luckily, there is a blueprint to go by: Seattle’s experience as Amazon’s main headquarters. New businesses and new infrastructure will follow in what some in Seattle call the “Amazon prosperity bomb,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Here in Virginia, for example, state leaders are now investing more than $1 billion over 20 years into tech higher education. Locals are also hoping Amazon will have a knock-on impact on Metro, which is in dire need of a ridership boost following a year of repairs and upgrades that pushed some users away. The commonwealth has promised more investment in Metro connection with the Amazon deal, which is sorely needed.
But while Amazon brings change, not all of it is perceived to be good. In Seattle, homelessness and inequality are on the rise. Homes have become less affordable. Seattle led the nation in home-price increases for nearly two years. Traffic will increase. And with that, many worry, could come a loss of diversity inside the beltway.
For those living here, there is a silver lining. Amazon’s young workforce trends metro. According to company statistics cited in the same Wall Street Journal article, about 15 percent of Amazon’s Seattle workforce live within the same ZIP Code as their office, and 20 percent walk to work. Neither are they are not the wine and dine crowd. They’re far more likely to be tethered to Metro lines and bike shares than weekend trips to the country.
Projections by the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University show that Fauquier, as well as the counties of Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison and Orange counties, will likely take in just .3 percent of those who move into the region because of the new headquarters. Prince William will likely take in 6.3 percent; while Loudoun County could see 5.5 percent of the workforce coming there.
But locals rightly fear as the current population gets pushed further out, bordering counties will have to absorb the influx. Additionally, the commonwealth estimates more than 22,000 additional permanent, direct and indirect jobs will result from Amazon’s presence. All of this will put stress on existing roads and schools, and outlying counties worry growth will threaten their rural flavor.
An East Coast headquarters is half the size of what was originally on the table and Northern Virginia was always a natural match for it, so there is really no excuse for being caught flat-footed by the announcement.
Now is the time for local leaders to be bold. An “Amazon prosperity bomb” can be full of positives for the region, if managed properly. We trust they will act with the necessary urgency to ensure we will all be thankful – eventually – that Amazon chose us.