September 13, 2017

CAN DC SWALLOW AMAZON?

Last week, Amazon announced that it was looking for a site for a new headquarters. Cue a dating contest to rival “The Bachelor,” as adoring cities figuratively hurled themselves at the feet of CEO Jeff Bezos, lauding their own best features and squealing how excited they were by the thought of having the tech giant for their very own.

Many theories have been advanced for Amazon’s best interest; many cities have been extolled. But one in particular caught my eye: Richard Florida, the poet laureate of the Creative Class, deemed my own fair city — Washington, DC — the most likely resting place for Bezos’s wandering eye. . . .

Dump 50,000 Amazon employees into this housing market, and the federal service’s GS-13s will find themselves in even more frenzied bidding wars for the area’s tight housing stock. Won’t they revolt? These are, after all, folks who know how to work the government. They already spend quite a bit of time working to tame Amazon; Jeff Bezos might not want them to spend more.

Maybe. But Washington’s metro area is half again the size of Seattle’s; our housing market is tight, but it’s not going to be as distorted by tech wealth as Seattle was. And there are reasons that those folks might want Amazon here. Washington is fundamentally a company town, its economy ringed in concentric circles around the federal government. That can be rather cozy (everyone understands what it is you do at work), but it can also be rather dull. Most Washingtonians of this class would love to see the city diversify into real industries that think about problems other than what’s going on with the Federal Register.

And by the same token, the District of Columbia city government would probably be all a-quiver to get their hands on an Amazon headquarters, to the tune of many gorgeous tax concessions for the company. That’s because so many of Washington’s major employers don’t pay much in the way of taxes: the federal government pays none, and nonprofits may generate only a little ancillary revenue. From the city’s standpoint, a real, live large business that pays any taxes at all would be an improvement over almost any other potential use for the space.

I think the relationship between tech companies and DC is already too incestuous.