Should Atlanta really want Amazon?

Late last year, Amazon announced that it was seeking a second North American headquarters, “HQ2” and would field bids from cities and metro areas around the US. There were, naturally, a few requirements.  Amazon wanted a metropolitan area with a population of over 1 million, with proximity to a large city, international airport, and major highways and mass transit routes.

As news about exactly what Amazon was seeking in its host city trickled out, many pundits named Atlanta as an early frontrunner. And as a city meeting all of the qualifications at least reasonably well in addition to having access to the talent pools at well-regarded local colleges (especially Georgia Tech), this analysis made sense. But is luring the despotic corporation actually in the city’s best interest?

Needless to say, Amazon is an extremely successful multinational megacorporation that would significantly boost the economy of any city that won its sweepstakes. Amazon has stated that HQ2 would bring a $5 billion investment over 10 years and offer 50,000 new jobs to the local economy of the winning municipality. The company has already injected a reported $30 billion, not to mention an additional $55 billion in “spin off benefits” into the local economy of its first headquarters, Seattle. But the increase in jobs and population has come at a price.

The most prominent issue occupying the ugly underbelly of Seattle’s Amazon campus is explosive increases in the price of land, rent, and homes. In the past 5 years, median home prices in the city have doubled. And accompanying this increase is a worrying homelessness problem—the city’s spending on the issue has ballooned from $39 to $60 million annually in just four years. The lack of affordable housing has led to a crisis: middle class workers like teachers and city employees being unable to live within the city limits.

If Atlanta got Amazon, and the hundred thousand plus workers it would bring ( estimates that Amazon would bring more than 66,000 supplementary workers to the city in addition to its 50,000), this problem would hit hard. Atlanta’s median home price now is relatively low, but is already rising due to a shortage of homes for sale, and adding these high wage workers to the equation would amplify this issue. And the areas where this hit would be most acute would likely be around the Grady cluster: families would be priced out as the process of gentrification pushed into overdrive.  

Additionally, Amazon would also present a threat to local businesses, especially startups and tech companies. Amazon is Walmart on HGH. With its market domination and business tactic of engulfing everything in its path, it is able to offer extremely high-paying wages that smaller businesses simply can’t match, putting these businesses in a bind: either offer dangerously high salaries or lose top employees. Either choice has dire consequences, and both would fundamentally change Atlanta’s steadily growing tech scene.

But all of these issues ignore the fact that Amazon isn’t just going to come to a city for nothing. In fact, many experts believe the company has always known what location it desired for HQ2, and simply used the competition as a way to drive up incentives to sweeten the pot. Atlanta’s proposal likely includes incentives like billions of dollars in tax breaks or copious amounts of free land. And while it’s impossible to judge the merit of this corporate welfare without knowing its extent, it’s an aspect of the situation that can’t be forgotten.

At the end of the day, though, there’s always another side to the coin. A more expensive housing market would hurt renters and lower-income residents; but it would help sellers. The diversity and sheer number of tech businesses in Atlanta may shrink; but the economic output would almost certainly increase.

Overall, there’s no right or wrong answer here, but citizens must understand what the looming decision means for our city. If Amazon comes, we will never be the same. For better or worse.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email