The guessing game is over: Amazon.com plans to open new corporate outposts in northern Virginia and New York, two already-crowded metropolitan areas that are likely to become even less affordable with a new influx of tech workers. In some ways, the decision isn't surprising, as Amazon had made it clear that the company wanted to base its new offices, nicknamed HQ2, in a metropolitan area with at least a million residents that's near universities and an international airport.
But in September 2017, when the company first announced plans to open a second headquarters outside Seattle, nothing felt outside of the realm of possibility. In total, 238 cities competed to host Amazon in a drawn-out process of elimination that felt reminiscent of "America's Next Top Model" or "The Bachelor," just with more talk about high-speed rail connectivity.
While some cities stuck to offering traditional incentives — namely, billions of dollars in tax breaks - others that weren't considered obvious front-runners turned to gimmicks and publicity stunts to try to get the attention of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
In Tucson, Ariz., economic development officials kicked off their bid by promising to deliver a 21-foot saguaro cactus to the company's headquarters in Seattle. But the saguaro "stayed put, packed for a trip but waiting in the nursery yard," The Arizona Daily Star reported. Officials blamed the delay on issues with paperwork. Finally, six days later, Amazon broke the news that it couldn't accept gifts and had already regifted the cactus, donating it to Tucson's Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
In Missouri, Kansas City Mayor Sly James (or, more likely, his staffers) purchased a whimsical assortment of items from Amazon, including wind chimes, breakfast cereal, and baby pajamas. Each one of the 107 products got a five-star review that not-so-subtly mentioned Kansas City. Here's what James had to say about a train engineer costume for toddlers:
"Maybe it's the way the bill of the engineer's hat cocks slightly to the left. Or maybe it's the 60/40 cotton-poly blend. Either way, the mere sight of this surprisingly authentic Baby's Train Engineer Toddler Costume by Fun World Costumes makes me wish I was at the helm of a 200-ton steam locomotive riding the rails into the nations #1 railroad hub by volume: Kansas City, Missouri. I can see myself now, adorned in the included, iconic overalls and red scarf among all those train cars of cargo pulling proudly into KC right on schedule as so many trains do here every day."
In Birmingham, Ala., the city launched a Twitter account, @BringAtoB, that aggressively flirted with the online retailer, spitting out pickup lines, like "Amazon, we got a 100% match on Bumble. Wanna go on a date?" and "Hey Amazon, you up?" Meanwhile, the city placed absurdly oversized Amazon packages around its downtown core and encouraged residents to use them as backdrops for selfies.
Pittsburgh's Primanti Bros., a beloved regional sandwich chain, offered to make free sandwiches for every employee if Amazon opened an outpost in the city. In Stonecrest, Ga., the city promised to give up 345 acres of its land and form a new city named "Amazon," where Bezos would be the permanent, unelected mayor.
Other cities opted for personal appeals. In Charlotte, N.C., Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, wrote a letter to Bezos asking him to consider the city. The Dallas Morning News put together a custom Spotify playlist for Bezos, while the mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., where Bezos was born, entreated him to "come home." (Both Dallas and Pittsburgh were included on a shortlist of 20 finalists announced in January, though they ultimately didn't make the cut.)
The postindustrial city of Gary, Ind., took out an ad in The New York Times, styled in the form of a letter. "Dear Mr. Bezos, How are you?" it began. "My name is Gary and I am a legacy city in the northwest corner of Indiana. I was born in 1906 and my parents were Elbert Gary and U.S. Steel."
Canadian cities also made a valiant attempt to try to get Amazon to notice them. The National Post noted that there was "a sense of grasping" in Winnipeg's proposal, which advertised the fact that the packaging for all bacon sold in North America is made in the Manitoba city. And economic development officials from Calgary, Alberta, commissioned artists to cover Seattle in graffiti, explaining that the campaign was "based on the premise that no other city will work harder than Calgary to attract and integrate Amazon."
Not every midsized city in North America set itself up for rejection. In October 2017, before Little Rock, Ark., could get turned down by Amazon, the city ran a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post that was designed to resemble a breakup letter. "Amazon, you've got so much going for you, and you'll find what you're looking for," it read. "But it's just not us."
San Antonio also chose to opt out. "It's not that we wouldn't love to have Amazon select San Antonio," Mayor Roy Nirenberg wrote in an open letter to Bezos. "Any city would."
But, he added, "it's hard to imagine that a forward-thinking company like Amazon hasn't already selected its preferred location."