Virginia Gears up for Amazon HQ2 Pitch

Fort Monroe — hands down, the coolest location proposed for Amazon HQ2. No one else, not even Google or Apple, has an headquarters on their own private, friggin’ island! Good luck getting 50,000 people in and out, though.

The Amazon gold rush is heating up. Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads are pitching the online retailing giant on multiple site in their regions for Amazon HQ2, a $5 billion, 50,000-employee second headquarters complex. Michael Martz with the Richmond Times-Dispatch has the scoop, citing “multiple” unidentified sources.

Northern Virginia, writes Martz, has identified four potential sites, including the state-owned Center of Innovative Technology property near Washington Dulles International Airport, the Potomac Yard along the Potomac River in Alexandria, and Arlington County properties in Rosslyn and Crystal City.

Hampton Roads is pushing three potential sites: Town Center in Virginia Beach, Harbour View in Suffolk, and Fort Monroe in Hampton.

The Richmond region is pitching three sites as well: Tree Hill Farm, a 500-acre property south of downtown, the Diamond baseball stadium and neighboring properties, and a 160-acre property in Chesterfield County.

The odds are long. Virginia’s metros are competing with dozens of cities/regions around the country. Of the three Virginia metros, Northern Virginia comes closest to matching the criteria established by Amazon, including one of the largest (though financially troubled) mass transit systems in the country and access to three international airports. The Washington region also has a massive, technologically literate labor pool. As an added bonus, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos already has a mansion in Washington, D.C., owns the Washington Post, and would enjoy access to U.S. government leaders.

However, one informed economic-development source that I talked to recently reminded me that Amazon has encouraged Richmond and Hampton Roads to submit proposals. A major advantage of either metro, the source said, was massively lower costs than Northern Virginia — and Amazon is highly sensitive to costs. However, any number of other cities and regions around the country could claim to offer lower costs. It doesn’t strike me as much of a differentiating factor.

Speaking with another well-informed economic-development source, I raised the objection that metros the size of Richmond or Hampton Roads would have a difficult time building the infrastructure and otherwise adapting to such a massive growth stimulus, especially if Amazon demands significant subsidies or tax exemptions. This source was confident, however, that the 15-year time frame for the project would allow plenty of time. I’m not so sure. I expect Amazon wants to see assets on the ground now, not promises that something will get done. Given Virginia’s track record with big infrastructure projects, I wouldn’t bank on any promise.

But my sources know a lot more than I do, and if they think Virginia has a genuine shot at bagging Amazon, well, I say go for it. Who knows, maybe they have something up their proverbial sleeve they’re not willing to talk about.