What Can Seattle Learn from Amazon’s HQ2 Search? 3 Takes

Perhaps the biggest story in Seattle last year was Amazon’s decision to seek a second headquarters elsewhere in North America. The tech and retail juggernaut has transformed this city and its economy over the last decade, for good and for ill. So, what lesson should Seattle take from Amazon’s move?

We put that question to Seattle-area innovation leaders, and asked for their best guess on where Amazon will land its HQ2. That decision is expected sometime this year, eh.

Ben Gilbert, co-founder of Pioneer Square Labs and interim CEO of Taunt, an e-sports company: “The market for engineers is so competitive that the big tech companies cannot be constrained to one main location—even one as talent-dense as Seattle. There are a lot of great engineers outside of major tech cities, and we can’t rest on our laurels expecting every company to have the headquarters exclusively in Seattle or San Francisco.”

Ed Lazowska, University of Washington computer science professor: “When confronting issues such as traffic congestion, housing affordability, income disparity, and quality of education, we should look in the mirror rather than pointing fingers. These challenges are largely of our own creation—through failures to act. Amazon has been a tremendous blessing, but mostly we just kick it in the shins. Other cities would kill to have the challenges that Seattle faces.

“I also urge us to think about the factors that caused Jeff Bezos to move here in the first place, and that enabled him to build a workforce of 50,000 here. That’s our magic.”

Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO, Textio: “I don’t know that it is a lesson for Seattle leaders, and I don’t think it’s bad for Seattle. It’s good to have balanced employment options in the region, to not be dominated by just one or two companies. Our tech ecosystem is flourishing because so many companies have either started or established significant offices in the region in the last few years. That creates both talent flow for companies and employment options for people to consider—win/win.”

And their guesses for the city that will land HQ2:

Gilbert: “My money is on Toronto, ON. Waterloo is a great computer science school, and it provides them nice geographic diversity having a HQ in multiple countries.”

Lazowska: “If I ran the zoo, I’d head to Toronto: a global city, great education at all levels, excellent transportation, and a federal government that looks forward and outward rather than backward and inward.”

Snyder: “Well, we wrote about this… :)”

Textio ranked the top 10 North American cities by the average time it takes to fill an engineering job. Birmingham, AL, was No. 1, with an average of 15.5 days.

[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts sharing thoughts from technology leaders about 2017 trends and 2018 forecasts.]

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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