Amazon announced this morning that they are looking to establish a second headquarters for the fast-growing company. They expect to spend $5 billion and employ 50,000 full-time workers. They’ve already named it HQ2.
Amazon’s current headquarters is in Seattle, where they employ 25,000 of their 40,000 Washington state employees. At the end of 2016, they employed 341,000 worldwide. Their growth has been spectacular. Just five years ago they employed just 32,000 — they’ve hired 110,000 over the past year alone.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said, “We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters. Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”
Like other companies that plan to expand, they will start talking with state and local governments and look for tax incentives and subsidies to influence their decision. That’s the normal process, whether it be automotive companies, sports teams, or company offices. In fact, Amazon added, “The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers.”
If I could talk to Bezos, I’d try to convince him to do something different. Amazon has grown by not focusing on profits and by ignoring conventional approaches to commerce, delivery, and customer satisfaction. Much of what they’ve done has been counterintuitive and has taken years to pay off.
Amazon is in a unique position that few companies ever are, so here’s my advice to Bezos:
You can change the rules about where you locate your new headquarters. You can ignore what’s conventional: asking for tax deals, infrastructure improvements, business subsidies, and finding a location where a large trained workforce already exists.
Just as you created a standard for e-commerce, I’d urge you to look at establishing your new headquarters in an entirely different way. Go where the jobs are really needed, to a part of the country where other companies can’t afford to move or would never consider. Amazon is one of the few companies that can do this. Yes, it may cost more — a lot more. And it may be less efficient for a while. It may require the building of more infrastructure and require that many people relocate. But if you did this, Amazon would become a magnet for attracting ancillary businesses, housing, schools, and services, and your impact on the area could be something that goes down in history as one of the most significant business decisions ever. And you’d set the example for other companies to follow.
Locate your new headquarters in the heart of coal country in West Virginia, the state that’s suffered the worst business growth in recent years with a loss of more than 40 percent of jobs in the coal industry, and the only state where in 2015 fewer than half of its adult civilians had a job. Do this and the world will take notice. It would be an act of philanthropy and a smart business decision, all in one. It would change the fortunes and lives of an area of the country that’s been ignored and has not benefited from technology. You’ve impacted millions in this country with your business prowess, but that could pale in comparison to what you could do now.