This contest is over. It’s been over for months, if not years. In fact, it never really was a contest at all. My kindred spirit Scott Galloway sees it as a tossup between NY and D.C. I will go one step further and declare Amazon HQ2 is already coming to D.C., but maybe not for the reasons others are imagining.
Why D.C. matters most to Jeff Bezos
America has three sectors that matter to Bezos: technology, capital and politics. Bezos wants to be a player in all three in a way no one else has ever achieved in modern history. Not Gates, Jobs or perhaps even Henry Ford.
Bezos is already the king of online commerce and his backbone business (Amazon Web Services) is behind almost all you see or do online. He’s in every type of technology of consequence, so there is nothing else he needs on the west coast. He can buy whatever he wants or build his own. If he doesn’t have it already it’s because he doesn’t want it, yet.
Fresh out of college Bezos worked on Wall Street for eight years before leaving to start Amazon. He knows New York and the financial clout it carries, but now two+ decades later he already has one of the three most valuable companies in America and a personal net worth well in excess of anyone in Manhattan. They way they keep score in New York is by money, and Bezos has already beaten them.
Which leaves politics as our remaining challenge. Bezos wants to be taken seriously in everything he says or does by people with real political power, and that only happens in Washington, D.C. He has already bought the Washington Post, the media property with the most political influence in America (come at me, New York Times fans!) and the most expensive private residence in D.C. He wants to walk into any room in D.C. and have every head turn.
All of this in no way diminishes his rapacious nature as a capitalist looking to soak state and local governments for all they are worth. It is telling that on his short list there are the three separate local D.C. jurisdictions (D.C. proper, Montgomery County and Northern Virginia). This is the tell that gives away the entire Amazon strategy.
“This decision is not the end of the contest but merely the end of the beginning.”
So how does this play out?
Amazon will announce that the ‘winning’ city is in fact all three of the D.C. jurisdictions. Bezos will plant the flag atop the Metro Center station and work his way out the various subway lines through the city and into the surrounding suburbs. To paraphrase Churchill after the British victory at El Alamein, this decision is not the end of the contest but merely the end of the beginning.
The other 17 cities will offer benefits to Amazon that the company can then use as demands in their negotiations with the D.C. jurisdictions they actually want. This will accelerate the race to the bottom and leave no town unpillaged.
Having three jurisdictions in play will permit Amazon to play three local governments against each other in perpetuity as the company decides to ramp up operations, or not. With additional counties getting into the act it is extremely unlikely that local pols will grow the necessary backbone to prevent Amazon from backing up one of their new delivery trucks at the local treasury and making off with all the public loot they can take. Bezos will always have a prize behind his back for the locality that can best amuse him with a song or dance (or tax credits).
So this whole contest has been a big sham. Bezos decided a while ago he needs to be a big macher in the Nation’s Capital, and everything else about this is window dressing.
Of course that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.
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