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A year after the HQ2 announcement, cities wait on Amazon news

Trying to predict where Amazon will go has become something of a parlor game among tech analysts and media.
Image: Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, speaks during a press conference on September 6, 2012 in Santa Monica, California.Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images file

On Sept. 7, 2017, Amazon made an announcement that kickstarted one of the biggest municipal sweepstakes in U.S. history — the company would be opening a second headquarter.

The massive project, known as HQ2, ignited a race among 238 cities to attract the trillion-dollar company. Amazon said the new campus would include an investment of as much as $5 billion and create 50,000 high-paying jobs.

A year later, those cities are still waiting.

The most recent update came in May, when Amazon said it had completed the process of visiting the 20 cities that had been named finalists for the new headquarters.

Amazon spokesperson Adam Sedo declined to comment but said the company remains committed to making a decision before the end of 2018.

Trying to predict where Amazon will go has become something of a parlor game among tech analysts and media.

An analysis by CNBC on the competitiveness of the 20 finalist cities concluded that Austin and Dallas "could have a strong shot," with Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Miami, Nashville and Northern Virginia rounding out the list of "strong contenders."

The Virginia and Washington D.C. areas have also become a trendy pick thanks to a variety of sites scouted by Amazon and close proximity to the nation's capital. OddShark, an online gambling information company, lists "Northern Virginia" and D.C. as its favorites for HQ2.

Other enterprising Amazon watchers have tried to track the movement and investments of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. One business journal tracked Bezos' private jet, while his real estate investments have been closely watched. He owns the biggest house in D.C., which he is currently renovating.

Even his vacations are monitored. The Miami Herald recently wrote that Bezos had been spotted at a Miami Beach club, causing the paper to ask "Could this be good news for Miami's HQ2 bid?"

Amazon's criteria for the city was clear — it was looking for a business-friendly tax environment, a growing workforce, proximity to a major airport, and "a compatible cultural and community environment."

That prompted cities to offer a variety of tax breaks and development incentives. New Jersey offered a $7 billion package of tax credits, prompting questions over whether some locations were going too far in hoping to attract Amazon. Some economists warned that the costs that the new headquarters would bring — the need for more teachers, police officers and infrastructure — could outweigh the economic benefit of HQ2 if cities go too far with their tax breaks.

Whichever city Amazon selects, growing scrutiny of the company is bound to continue. President Donald Trump has attacked Amazon and Bezos, as has Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who recently introduced a bill that would target Amazon and other companies whose workers also receive government assistance.

Called the "Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies" Act — which conveniently shortens to the Stop BEZOS Act — the bill would tax companies however much their employers receive in public benefits.

"Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on earth," Sanders said at a recent press conference announcing the bill. "Meanwhile Mr. Bezos continues to pay thousands of his Amazon employees wages that are so low that they must rely on food stamps, Medicaid or subsidized housing in order to survive, programs that are financed by the middle class of this country."