By the end of this year, Amazon will announce a location for its second headquarters, bringing the tech giant’s massive search for “HQ2” to a triumphant close.
As of Thursday, 20 cities were left in the running, whittled down from 238 that applied to bring the company’s new campus to their zip code. There’s no telling who will come out on top, but experts say we can look to its first address for clues.
Launched in Seattle in 1994, Amazon transformed the city into the still-growing tech hub it is today. About 40,000 employees currently work in Seattle, and the company says it has pumped $38 billion into the city’s economy from 2010 to 2016 alone.
If Jeff Bezos and company want to replicate that kind of impact, “they’ll need to find a place with those same characteristics,” says Santiago Gallino, PhD, Professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
“When a big company opens a headquarters, it brings the opportunity to grow,” he says. “That can be meaningful.”
Amazon knows how transformative its presence can be. When the company first put out a call for proposals, it announced plans to inject more than $5 billion, and create up to 50,000 jobs, in the city chosen for its second home base. That growth will have far less impact on places like New York and Los Angeles; though both made the company’s shortlist. Denver, Colo., Columbus, Ohio, and Raleigh, N.C., are smaller contenders that will take Amazon’s dime a lot further — and have less competition for employee talent than saturated tech markets, thus making them, in theory, better bets.
Newark, N.J., is probably the biggest surprise on Amazon’s list and would majorly benefit from the company’s presence. The unemployment rate in in Newark is roughly 8%, twice the national average, and about one in three residents lives below the poverty line. But while the city has made strides to changes its crime-riddled reputation, attracting big business from Audible.com (an Amazon company) and Prudential, it still doesn’t have the cultural trappings, mild weather, or family-friendly perks of cities like Northern Virginia, Nashville, Tenn., and Montgomery County, Md. — contenders that are also more likely to entice both new hires and employees in Seattle who get the opportunity to transfer down the road.
Education is another important factor. Many of the jobs at Amazon’s Seattle campus are in software, program management, and operations roles, and the company’s proximity to top tech programs at universities like Stanford, UCLA and UC Berkeley has made them easy to fill. Amazon’s hiring needs probably won’t change much at its second headquarters, so cities that are similarly situated near a pipeline of tech talent will almost certainly top its list.
So who’s the front runner?
Moody’s Analytics has a few guesses.
In October, the research firm released, “Where Amazon’s Next Headquarters Should Go,” which ranked cities based on “business environment,” “quality of life,” and other factors.
In its list of finalists, Amazon chose seven of Moody’s top 10 cities, and all three of the firm’s top picks: Austin, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.
“Each of these cities has their own unique strength,” wrote Moody’s senior economist Adam Ozimek in an email to MONEY. “Austin has a great business environment, with fast overall job growth and fast tech job growth. Atlanta does really well when it comes to human capital, in particular the flow of college graduates with engineering, computer, and math degrees. Philadelphia is a well-rounded, underdog.”
Gallino, for his part, is also betting on “City of Brotherly Love.”
“My personal guess is Philadelphia,” he says. “It has comparable statistics to Seattle in size, income, and transportation. It’s pretty much at the center of gravity of the best schools in the North East. And it’s a city that can be flexible in terms of accommodating a large headquarters.”
Ever since Amazon announced the public search for HQ2, it’s stressed the need for a symbiotic relationship — a place where “customers, employees, and the community can all benefit,” as per a company website. Philly certainly fits the bill, according to Gallino.
“I can see Philadelphia making a positive impact on Amazon, and Amazon making a positive impact on Philadelphia,” he says.
Here’s the full list of finalists.
- Austin, Tex.
- Columbus, Ohio
- Los Angeles
- Montgomery County, Md.
- New York
- Northern Virginia
- Raleigh, N.C.
- Toronto, Canada
- Washington, D.C.