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Could Austin be prime location for Amazon HQ?

Friday, September 8, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

To hear the Austin tech community talking on Thursday, it was a foregone conclusion that online retail giant Amazon will become Austin’s largest employer and have a major physical footprint here within the next decade. That prediction came about following the news that Amazon plans to build a second company headquarters somewhere in North America, and is on the hunt for potential locations.

The main points of the new Amazon HQ, which would be equal in importance to its existing Seattle-area base, are eye-popping: an expected 50,000 jobs averaging more than $100,000 a year in salary, housed in a development that is expected to cost $5 billion over three phases of construction. The largest employer in the Austin area in recent decades has been Dell, which reported more than 30,000 employees for years before it became privately owned again.

In Austin’s favor for Amazon consideration is its attractiveness for tech talent, the fact that the company just spent $13 billion buying Austin-based Whole Foods grocery store chain and the proximity to a pair of logistics centers the company already operates in the area.

But a peek at the request for proposal the company issued for potential suitors makes the possible courtship for Austin look a bit tricky.

Preference will be given for metro areas with more than 1 million people, a stable and friendly business climate, a location attractive to tech workers, and communities that “think big.”

But the company also wants an urban or downtown campus, and a development-prepped site with on-site access to mass transit and up to 8 million square feet of space available by the final buildout that is expected to take more than 10 years to complete.

Huge tracts of developable land in the downtown core are not exactly ripe for the picking, though the Austin Business Journal notes that the Austin American-Statesman site – and its nearly 19 acres – are currently being shopped for redevelopment. That site, along with the pieces of the area just west on Congress Avenue where Barton Springs Road, Riverside Drive and South First Street intersect, just got a lot more interesting.

One other wrinkle: Incentive packages “will be significant factors in the decision-making process” for Amazon. Austin’s potential as Amazon’s next home base could be limited by the fact that City Council has opted to move away from such deals going forward in favor of promoting small business growth and middle-class jobs.

Photo by Robert Scoble made available through a Creative Commons license.

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