5 Lessons Seattle Can Teach Other Cities About Amazon


A maritime, export-based financial system that has lengthy appeared extra towards Asia and Alaska than to the remainder of America was already right here when Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, arrived in 1994 and commenced promoting books from his storage. So was a historical past of artwork and music that runs from Quincy Jones via Nirvana and Pearl Jam, a part of the mystique that has drawn younger folks for generations. Seattle’s share of millennial-age folks, 25 to 34, is close to the very best within the nation amongst large cities, in accordance with 2015 estimates by the census.

A collective company cultural ethos had been constructed as properly by different corporations that arose from a metropolis of working waterfronts and gloomy skies. REI, Eddie Bauer, Starbucks, Nordstrom and Costco — to not point out Microsoft and Boeing — formed the financial rootstock that Amazon grew from, and created an badumption by many Seattle residents that firms needs to be concerned locally as civic leaders.

“There isn’t an obvious candidate where they’re going to get the same confluence of features,” stated Fred H. Smith, a professor of city financial historical past at Davidson College in North Carolina, who has evaluated the bid by his state’s main HQ2 contender, Charlotte.

Seattle hit a candy spot with the corporate’s rise, Professor Smith stated, as Amazon tapped into an present wealthy pool of expertise and sources, from the University of Washington’s strengths in pc science, to low cost electrical energy from the Pacific Northwest’s connections to hydropower dams within the Columbia River basin.

“Finding a city that has all of those things is a tough goal,” he stated.

Amazon is not going to be a predictable engine of change.


Amazon workers spend time with their canines in a 17th-floor canine park on the corporate’s campus in Seattle.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

An organization that started off promoting books grew to become one of many inventors of cloud computing as a enterprise, promoting not simply items however the invisible equipment of web commerce itself. It has leapt into the grocery enterprise with the current acquisition of Whole Foods. It decided that workers might convey their canines to work, and on any given day, about 1,200 pets are roaming the 33 buildings of the city campus within the South Lake Union space.

The message to HQ2 cities is evident: What you get now will most likely not be what Amazon turns into.

Change and churn have turn into a part of the Amazon model, and thus the Seattle model, enterprise folks stated. In the previous seven years, coinciding with Amazon’s greatest progress spurt, the variety of Fortune 500 corporations with an workplace in Seattle quadrupled, to 31 from seven, lots of them hunkering down as intently as they will to Amazon.

“There’s an ecosystem that has been really enhanced because of Amazon,” stated Josh Simms, the chief govt of H5 Data Centers, an organization primarily based in Los Angeles that gives area for cloud-computing corporations. “Amazon brought a lot of young, smart people into Seattle, so now all the big tech companies feel they need to be there as well,” he stated.

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Critics nonetheless complain that Amazon will not be concerned sufficient as a company citizen. But one of many firm’s new workplace buildings could have a shelter for 200 homeless ladies, youngsters and households constructed into the tower itself — the primary such design on this planet, firm officers stated.

“I still look at Amazon as a young company, a teenager,” stated Maud Daudon, the president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “They’re on a path.”

Amazon will amplify a metropolis’s charms, and its warts.


Defenders of the corporate’s affect stated the large and costly enlargement of mbad transit that’s underway now may not have occurred if a sudden worsening of site visitors hadn’t underscored the necessity.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

In Seattle, the corporate’s progress grew to become the catalyst for forces of anti-growth as housing costs soared and site visitors worsened. The nation’s first big-city $15-an-hour wage was handed right here as Amazon rose. Home costs have risen sooner in recent times than in anywhere in America.

“Amazon is simultaneously one of the most loved and most hated of organizations. It’s this incredibly schizophrenic relationship,” stated David Rolf, the president of the Service Employees International Union 775, which represents 45,00zero well being care staff.

Defenders of the corporate’s affect stated the large and costly enlargement of mbad transit that’s underway now may not have occurred if a sudden worsening of site visitors had not underscored the necessity; voters rejected transit expansions a number of occasions right here up to now.

Others, like Will Martin, an architect who was strolling on a current morning close to his workplace downtown, fear that the town might turn into an excessive amount of of a one-company city, the way in which it felt within the outdated days when Boeing would sneeze and the town would pull up the blankets and keep in mattress.

“Any downturn in Amazon would hollow out the city like the Boeing bust did in the 1970s,” Mr. Martin stated.

New workers is not going to be just like the outdated ones.

Brace for a change of housing, demography and shopper demand. Here in Seattle, a metropolis nonetheless outlined by neighborhoods of single-family houses, about eight,00zero new residences are underneath building inside strolling distance of the Amazon campus and are anticipated to be taken, the corporate says, principally by workers. About 20 % of the corporate’s 40,00zero staff already don’t take any motorized transportation in any respect — they stroll or bike. And a couple of in six dwell and work in the identical ZIP code.

“All of a sudden you’re going to get 50,000 requests — why is the Wi-Fi not faster around here?” stated Mike Metzger, the chief govt at Payscale, a wage-badytics firm that was based in Seattle by three executives from Microsoft, and now has dozens of former Amazon staff in its 450-person work drive.

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New issues gained’t be just like the outdated ones, both.

A fry prepare dinner can now earn $20 or extra in Seattle, which has outpaced each different large metropolis within the nation within the charge of wage will increase over the past decade, in accordance with figures from Payscale. But hundreds of individuals have additionally come in search of alternative, with many falling via the cracks. Over 11,00zero folks have been homeless in King County on a one-night rely this 12 months. Home costs continued their dizzying upward spiral in 2017, almost twice as quick because the second-fastest appreciating large metropolis.

Ed Lazowska, a professor of pc science on the University of Washington, stated the stresses and alternatives are mixed.

“Other cities would kill to have the problems that Seattle has,” he stated. The precedence, in his view, needs to be preserving the weather that allowed and inspired Amazon to place down seeds and develop. “What we want to do is maintain the culture that attracted Bezos in the first place,” he stated.

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