As economic development officials in Maryland (and more or less everyplace else in North America) finish their pitches this week for Amazon's HQ2 project and the 50,000 jobs projected to come with it, we'd like to add one final point in Baltimore's favor the company might want to consider. Amazon laid out its specifications for a new second-home-town, including a positive business climate, access to a highly skilled workforce, excellent quality of life, strong transportation infrastructure and so on. We've made the case before for why Baltimore fits the bill, as have boosters of cities from coast to coast.
But it's also worth asking the question Amazon didn't really get into in its request for proposals: Why not just continue to expand in Seattle? What are they looking for that they're not getting in the city where they have already invested billions and amassed a workforce of 40,000?
Not surprisingly, there has been a fair amount of municipal tooth-gnashing about that question in the Emerald City. Some have blamed the City Council's progressive politics, including the enactment of a $15 minimum wage and the attempt to impose a municipal income tax on high earners. But the prevailing wisdom appears to be that Seattleites are simply weary of the explosive growth their city has seen in the last few decades, and that even a company so rich as Amazon isn't immune to the massive run-up in real estate prices that has followed. Amazon may be projecting that the employees it will hire at HQ2 will earn $100,000 on average, but even that doesn't go so far in Seattle, where the median home price hit $722,000 this spring, double what it was five years ago.
Amazon says it wants a walk/bike/transit-friendly community for HQ2, which is not surprising since it demonstrated its commitment to urban living at HQ1. The company brags on its website about its "conscious choice" to invest in downtown campus, even though the suburbs would be cheaper, and notes that about 15 percent of employees live in the same ZIP code as their office and 20 percent walk to work.
HQ1 is in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, ZIP code 98109. Redfin, the real estate website, listed 32 homes for sale there as of Tuesday morning, though the way the Seattle market goes, that could well have dropped by a few before we finished typing this sentence. The median listing price: A shade under $1.2 million, for which you get two-bedroom, two bath, 1,500-square-foot townhouse.
In 21230, the ZIP code that contains Port Covington, Baltimore's best fit for Amazon, you could literally live in the Ritz Carlton for that. (Alternatively, if you're willing to endure a 20-minute commute, you could have your pick of Roland Park manses with upward of 7,000 square feet as well.)
Whether Amazon comes to Port Covington or not, that part of the city is set to undergo a building boom over the next 30 years as Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Sagamore Development constructs a massive new city-within-a-city, including eventually as many as 13,500 new residences. But there are already 350 houses and condos on the market in 21230, including 136 that cost less than the cheapest listing in Amazon's current 'hood.
(In case you're wondering, that's a 462 square-foot, one bedroom, one bath, second floor walk-up co-op for $265,000, plus $398 a month in condo fees. Redfin says if you're interested, you should act fast; it's likely to be off the market in nine days or less. For the equivalent price near Port Covington, you're looking at a 1,200-square-foot rehabbed 1850 Federal Hill townhouse with a lovely courtyard two blocks from the water.)
We understand that Amazon isn't on a social justice mission here. It's looking for a good deal when it comes to taxes and business friendliness, and its major considerations for location relate to its ability to attract and retain the talent necessary to fuel its exponential growth. Whether it would offer a massive shot in the arm to Baltimore, as Gov. Larry Hogan put it, may well be immaterial.
But think of it another way. Amazon could go someplace like Denver — prognosticators' top pick for HQ2 — and find itself grappling in no time with the same local resentments and economic pressures that got it looking beyond Seattle in the first place. Or it could go someplace that could easily absorb 50,000 new workers and their families and be glad for it.
We have full confidence that Governor Hogan and Mayor Catherine Pugh will put forward an attractive incentive package for Amazon, just like every other governor and big city mayor in America. And we're certain that the Baltimore region offers the workforce and amenities Amazon needs, but so do lots of places. What we've got is room to grow and a shovel-ready project in Port Covington. If Amazon wants to avoid the problems that pushed it beyond Seattle, Baltimore is the place to be.
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