Austin and Dallas have beaten out hundreds of other cities across the U.S. and Canada—and a handful of fellow Texas locales—to be named in the twenty finalists for Amazon’s new headquarters, HQ2. The tech giant announced the finalists on Thursday morning. Austin and Dallas join Boston, New York, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Nashville, Denver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Newark, Northern Virginia, Raleigh, Montgomery County in Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio as potential landing spots for the new headquarters.
The bidding process has been extremely competitive and a little crazy, with cities offering Amazon everything from a giant cactus (thank you, Tuscon) to maybe, kinda sorta offering to fight a bear for the company (we’re looking at you, Calgary, Alberta). Stonecrest, Georgia even proposed to rename itself “Amazon.”
If Austin and Dallas included any such craziness in their bids, we may never know. Both cities are keeping their proposals under wraps. As we reported in October, every Texas proposal for HQ2—including Houston, El Paso, Frisco, and Milam County—refused to share their complete bids, including whether any taxpayer-funded incentives were offered (Austin did say later that no publicly funded incentives were included in its proposal). Amazon solicited bids in September, putting out a wishlist that included a direct request for tax breaks. The company has received more than $1 billion in public subsidies for its facilities since 2000, including a $7 million subsidy for a Houston warehouse last year, and other HQ2 proposals across the country have included tax incentives of up to $2 billion. Without seeing the proposals, it’s currently unclear at what cost HQ2 may come should Austin or Dallas ultimately win the sweepstakes.
Now that they are finalists, both cities should think hard about whether they really want HQ2 in the first place. The new hub is projected to bring 50,000 high-paying jobs and is expected to draw more than $5 billion in investment. But Amazon has a reputation for mistreating low- and mid-level workers—an investigation by the New York Times in 2015 characterized the workplace as “bruising”—and other reports have documented poor working conditions, including warehouse temperatures that run from below-freezing to dangerously hot, unrealistically high work goals, and video scoreboards that shame workers who have been accused of theft.
And though Amazon has touted its financial impact on Seattle, the location of its main headquarters, claiming it has pumped “an additional $38 billion to the city’s economy” between 2010 and 2016, the original HQ may also serve as a warning for any of the finalists. Some in Seattle have long blamed Amazon for gentrifying many of the city’s most unique neighborhoods beyond recognition, severely raising housing costs, and causing traffic congestion with its sudden influx of workers.
Housing prices in Seattle are rising faster than anywhere else in the nation. According to Business Insider, from 2005 to 2015, Seattle’s median rent jumped from $1,008 to $1,286, an increase nearly three times the national median, while the city’s median home price skyrocketed 17 percent in the last year, reaching $730,000. Amazon has snatched up more new office space downtown than every other company in the city combined, “helping Seattle become the crane capital of America and a near-constant construction site,” writes the Seattle Times. In September, Times columnist Danny Westneat warned potential HQ2 cities of a “prosperity bomb” that would wipe out mom-and-pop shops and old diners and replace them with “the new and sterile,” plus an invading army of “bros” as a result of Amazon’s mostly male workforce.
Still, city leaders of both Austin and Dallas seem pretty happy to be finalists for Amazon’s new headquarters.
Thrilled to be in the next round of @amazon HQ2 process. There’s much work left to be done but I want to thank my fellow mayors, @DRChamber, @FTWChamber and all our citizens for making @CityOfDallas and DFW such a desirable place to be!
— Mike Rawlings (@Mike_Rawlings) January 18, 2018
Excited that Austin region has advanced to second round of #Amazon HQ2. Look forward to presenting the best of what our region has to offer and how we can partner with Amazon.
— Austin Chamber (@AustinChamber) January 18, 2018
So, what’s next? “In the coming months, Amazon will work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information as necessary, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate our hiring plans as well as benefit our employees and the local community,” Amazon said in a press release announcing the finalists. “We expect to make a decision in 2018.” Both cities seem to have a good shot at winning the final round. In November, the Wall Street Journal‘s analysis put Dallas as the top landing spot, and Moody’s Analytics gave Austin the best chance at getting HQ2 back in October.