Amazon chose Long Island City and Crystal City based on talent. But talent isn’t generic: The search for HQ2 was about particular types of it.
When Amazon chose Long Island City in Queens, New York, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, as the sites between which to split the company’s second headquarters, I kept hearing that the choice was all about talent. Or, according to the title of an analysis from Brookings: “talent, talent, talent.”
Of course it was about talent. To be more precise, the company made its decision by selecting locations with specialized kinds of talent that meet certain needs.
What’s critical is that Amazon gets very different kinds of talent between New York City and the D.C. metro area. New York is a center for global finance and the headquarters of many international companies; it’s also a media center and budding tech hub. New York is the place to be for global management talent. As Stacy Mitchell put it in an article for The Nation, Amazon’s ambition spans more than a single market; its aim is to become a “radically new kind of monopoly with ambitions that dwarf those of earlier empires.” With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine why Amazon would want to attract the best talent in management. Jeff Bezos wants Amazon to dominate, and he needs great managers for that.
Tech talent is easy to recruit to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. But this kind of talent is not: it knows it needs to stay in the kind of network that only New York and London have to offer. (Economic geographers identify London and New York as the only two “Alpha Plus” cities in the world.) For Amazon to attract the kinds of global executive talent it needs to grow to the next level, it simply has to be in New York.
Crystal City, in the D.C. metro area, puts Amazon closer to tech talent, but also to government leaders, cloud customers, and the U.S. Department of Defense.