With over $5 billion in potential community investment and 50,000 jobs on the line, every city wants to host Amazon’s second headquarters. Since the company announced its intent to expand in BLAH, over NUMBER of cities have tosses their metaphorical hats into the ring. Over the past few months, the company has parsed through the submissions with all the quiet drama and political silence of a reality dating show. Just recently, Amazon officially released the names on its shortlist. Pittsburgh made the cut, as did Boston, Toronto, Atlanta, and Newark. But with so much drama surrounding the company’s choice, we’re left to wonder: How many names on this overhyped list are actual competitors, and which are just for show? Perhaps more importantly, does Pittsburgh stand a fighting chance? A few months ago, I published a post that assessed the city’s chances as a host – and now, I’ll take a closer look into the details that will either push the city above the rest or force it out of the game.
Many pro-Pittsburgh parties are optimistic about the city’s chances – and have ample reason to be. Pittsburgh is already well-known in corporate circles as a hub for advancement; the city hosts a thriving tech community and well-regarded talent pool. As Jim Rock, the CEO for the Pittsburgh-based robotics company Seegrid comments in an article for TribLIVE, “Pittsburgh has a long-standing reputation for innovation–long before top tech companies such as Apple, Google, Uber and even Amazon itself established a presence in the city.” More than a few high-level Amazon executives even have personal or professional connections to the city. But Pittsburgh’s culture and network isn’t the only draw in the city’s pitch; the area also financially attractive. The cost of commercial state is relatively low – especially when compared to those in its’ rival cities. The average cost per square foot of commercial real estate in Boston, for example, averages $50 per square foot. In Pittsburgh, the cost stands at around $30 per square foot.
Pittsburgh’s advantages are clear. However, the city does face a number of challenges that may make it less attractive to Amazon’s board, including its comparatively modest workforce. HQ2 stands to make 50,000 jobs once it opens – and while that may sound impressive on paper, the open positions won’t do the community or company any good if there aren’t people to fill them. According to a 2016 study by Allegheny Conference on Community, increasing retirement rates and an insufficient influx of workers could cause Pittsburgh to lose as many as 80,000 workers by 2025. Mayor Bill Peduto isn’t concerned, though; at a press conference shortly after the shortlist went public, he expressed his belief that Pittsburgh was more than equipped to compete with the other cities on the shortlist and could attract the workers if chosen. Currently, the city has made strides to cultivate talent and STEM interest in schools in an attempt to encourage young workers to pursue careers in tech. This all said, the city’s low workforce will be a factor Amazon will need to keep in mind when making their final selection.
It is worth noting that the so-called “shortlist” is not all that short. Amazon has approached the process with the calculation of a career politician and the dramatic savvy of a reality dating show, thereby fostering a competitive culture which will surely be to their benefit. The company even requested that those in Pittsburgh government sign a nondisclosure agreement and limit their communications to a single representative for greater confidentiality. It is unclear whether officials will comply with their request – but with the importance of the issue, silence seems likely. Pittsburgh stands as a fantastic candidate for HQ2; however, the choice ultimately comes down to Amazon. With all of the secrecy and drama seen thus far, we can probably expect a few more months of drawn-out competitions and closed doors.
For more of Jason Cohen’s work, please visit JasonCohenPittsburgh.org.
Originally posted on JasonCohenPittsburgh.net