Is Denver out of the running for Amazon HQ2? Some reports have Mile High City on outside looking in

Is Denver done for in the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes? If the unnamed sources in a Wall Street Journal story from Sunday are to be believed, the metro area’s mile high goose is all but cooked, even though the e-commerce behemoth may be considering splitting up its second headquarters among two cities or more.

Some of the people who have headed up Colorado’s campaign to attract Amazon, though, say not so fast.

“We have received no notification that we have been disqualified from the process,” said Sam Bailey, vice president of economic development for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., which is handling the bid process on behalf of the state.

The Journal cites “knowledgeable people” in asserting Amazon’s negotiations with public officials are moving into advanced stages in Northern Virginia, a region that has emerged as a front runner to land the Seattle-based company’s HQ2 project in the minds of many. Reporting in the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post seemed to corroborate the speculation. JBG Smith, a top real estate company in Crystal City, Va., has pulled some of its lease-able buildings off the market, according to the Post story on Saturday.

The WSJ story also points to Dallas. A developer there snatched up a 7.2-acre, transit-oriented site linked to Amazon for $33 million last week. Amazon is still “actively talking” with folks in New York, too, the Journal’s sources report.

“Site selection specialists say Amazon likely is having late-stage talks with two or more cities, and has other cities on hold, in case any one deal can’t be completed,” the story says. It lists Denver as one of several locales where “discussions appear to have cooled.”

Amazon officials have been none too pleased with the recent chatter about where it plans to locate its projected $5 billion, 8-million-square-foot HQ2 project. The company has said little about its search publicly since it named 20 finalist cities — including Denver — from a pool of 238 applicants in January. 

The Metro Denver EDC’s Bailey respects the nondisclosure agreement signed with the company. He did say Colorado’s bid, which highlighted eight metro-area sites from a wider list of 30 possibilities in the state, was crafted with a potential split HQ2 in mind.

“We can’t comment on any discussions surrounding that scenario. However, we submitted our proposal to be flexible and adaptable should Amazon split the HQ2 project among multiple states and communities,” Bailey said.

Talent remains a key consideration for Amazon, and the Post article cited the difficulty of finding 50,000 workers in one location as a rationale for splitting up HQ2.

PayScale, a compensation platform, looked at the top 25 jobs and skills employed at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle and then looked at their availability in the 20 cities competing for HQ2.

Denver had a 48 percent higher concentration of jobs Amazon has at its original headquarters than the U.S. as a whole.

But when it came to the specific skills, like java programming, the concentration was only 30 percent higher, said Katie Bardaro, lead economist at Seattle-based PayScale.

Another consideration was how likely those workers were to jump ship. Denver workers were in the middle of the pack in terms of job dissatisfaction.

“In today’s labor market, it’s a seller’s market,” Bardaro said of the types of skills Amazon wants to employ.

Based on all of those three measures, Denver ranked ninth among the 20 finalist cities. The top three talent pool scores went to Boston, the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia area, and New York.

In the middle of the country, Austin, Texas, Chicago and Dallas all ranked ahead of Denver in terms of their talent pool.

Bardaro said it is important to remember Amazon is also weighing available real estate, financial incentives cities and states are offering, vendor relationships, housing availability and transit.

The company is trying to avoid overwhelming a market like it did Seattle, she said.

“The concept of splitting HQ2 up in two locations alleviates at least some of that,” she said.

The New York Times, in September 2017, crowned Denver HQ2 champion. Regardless of the outcome though, Bailey said Colorado is a winner. The Metro Denver EDC has counted 2,969 articles dating back to Sept. 8, 2017, that have mentioned both metro Denver and Amazon, 94 percent of which came in national publications. In that time frame, Denver has attracted other major companies including the headquarters for apparel brand giant VF Corp.

“The Amazon HQ2 project has been immensely beneficial in generating exposure for our diversified economy, advanced industries and communities throughout Colorado and the Denver metro region,” Bailey said.

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