According to a recent analysis by The New York Times, Denver is the logical location for Amazon’s new headquarters. The Mile High City checks all the boxes — a metro area of more than 1 million with a diverse population, an international airport, superb public transportation, a vibrant tech sector and nearby recreation opportunities. Perhaps most significantly, it’s the kind of place that Amazon employees would like.
In sharp contrast to the debacle a few years ago, when the Denver metro area submitted two separate bids in efforts to attract Boeing, all the players are lining up to submit a single unified proposal.
Amazon has made it very clear that the successful city will pay dearly for the privilege. How much? Wisconsin landed the 13,000-employee Foxconn deal with an offer of $3 billion over a multi-year period. What will Colorado have to pay for 50,000 high-level jobs with an average annual salary of $100,000? We’ll see.
If Denver succeeds, what’s in it for us? Will we just be passive spectators, with little or no say in the process? Or should we be proactive and figure out how to minimize costs and maximize benefits?
The benefits are obvious enough. A massive corporate headquarters in Denver would have spillover effects, spurring residential, commercial and industrial development in the Pikes Peak region. For those benefits to be maximized, we need specific commitments in the bid package to make it a unified Front Range proposal.
Consider: Depending upon the terms of the bid, state transportation resources for the indefinite future might be focused on the Denver MSA. That might further delay work on the I-25 bottleneck, whether or not El Paso County voters agree to put up a few million bucks for the project. Absent I-25 widening, the Amazon spin-off effect will be far less significant.
For the same reason, the state, Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Pueblo need to make meaningful commitments to Front Range passenger rail.
If both projects are included in the bid package, it’ll benefit all the players. But unless we get to work now, the bid package will be entirely Denver-centric. Promised transportation improvements will focus on DIA, I-70 and light rail.
It may hurt our feelings, but Denver-area power players think of us as we used to think of Pueblo. We’re seen as a quirky, politically bizarre and often self-destructive city that doesn’t really matter. We paid no attention to Pueblo until we had to, thanks to the Southern Delivery System.
Similarly, Denver won’t pay any attention to our particular needs until we make it clear that they can’t just blow us off, and expect us to be part of the Amazon amen chorus.
And even though Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and his allies might deny it, buyer’s remorse might set in a few years hence.
According to Amazon’s projections, the new headquarters will have 50,000 employees in 20 years. Such projections assume that the Amazon of 2037 will be like today’s unstoppable behemoth, only much more so. That’s certainly possible, but a lot can change in 20 years. In 1997 daily newspapers ruled the advertising world; Facebook didn’t exist; Lehman Brothers was a financial powerhouse; and Fortune had for the second straight year named Enron as America’s most innovative company.
Look at the business landscape of Colorado Springs in the 1980s and 1990s. Dominant companies included Intel, MCI, Digital Equipment, Hewlett-Packard, Brown Disc and Apple. The world changed, the companies merged, folded or left town and Colorado Springs lost 20,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs.
Amazon’s new headquarters won’t replace the Seattle location, but will only serve to complement it. The new location will simply extend the company’s command-and-control operations, ramping up to more than 100,000 white-collar workers in two locations. That’s four times as many as the 26,000 who labor at the Pentagon.
Mature American corporations love to build headquarters. Think of the Pan Am Building, the Chrysler Building, the Sears Tower, the Woolworth Building, Apple’s $5 billion “spaceship” and even our once-elegant Holly Sugar Building. To Jeff Bezos’ credit, Amazon’s plans seem far more modest — no 150-story Bezos Building, no monument to Amazon’s present grandeur. Yet if Amazon comes to Colorado it may change our lives beyond imagining — and maybe we can snag some of those $100K jobs.
Jeff, any openings for elderly journalists?