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The Prime Pick the City of Houston Wants for the Holidays

December 8th, 2017 by David Minces

HQ2: What is it and when is it happening?

Business-savvy folks have been talking about “HQ2” since it was announced in October. But what exactly does this buzz term refer to? HQ2 is what retail giant Amazon has named its expansion efforts to create a second headquarters somewhere in North America. Amazon’s intentions to open a sister hub were announced a few months ago, but a decision about which city will be chosen is not expected to be revealed until sometime in 2018. In the meantime, over 238 cities are holding their breath and crossing their fingers.

What HQ2 would do for Houston’s economy

Amazon expects “to invest over $5 billion in construction” to create “as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs”, noting that HQ2 “will be a full equal to our current campus in Seattle.” Those estimates are just what Amazon is committing to their direct impact. The company and financial experts alike speculate that thousands of additional jobs and billions of dollars of investments would flock to whatever area HQ2 breaks ground in to support the massive infrastructural need that 50,000 individuals and families would bring to the city.

To provide some insight as to just how massive Amazon’s Seattle “campus” is, the facility takes up 8.1 million square feet, spread across 33 buildings, holding over 40,000 employees. The utility and maintenance costs alone are $1.4 billion and $43 million is paid to Seattle’s public transport company for employees to use. Nearly a quarter million nightly hotel stays are booked by those visiting the retail mecca. Non-Amazon employees are estimated to have a personal income increase of $17 billion because of the company’s direct investments in the local economy.

Houston’s GDP is typically in the $450-$500 billion dollar range annually. Amazon’s construction alone would contribute about 1% of this figure. Adding 50,000 jobs would increase the total employment in the Houston-metro area by 2%, a staggering proportion.

Houston’s chances of getting selected for HQ2

Houston is a hub for higher education, the arts, and industry. But experts speculate that the city would be not able to accommodate the 50,000 new jobs (which are estimated to average 6-figure salaries) on such short notice. Even Houston’s largest employers only employee about 10,000 people. The leading picks? Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington, D.C. While these cities are heavily populated, they satisfy Amazon’s need for an east coast outlet (except in Denver’s case) and clearly have a dense population of employment candidates. Many news sources have given their top picks for HQ2 and Houston’s name has not been mentioned on a single one. A major concern for Amazon in selecting Houston as their sister headquarters is the propensity for natural disasters to occur and cause business interruptions, something that can’t happen for America’s retail right-hand. That doesn’t dampen the Clutch City’s spirits. In fact, Mayor Turner might be the most optimistic advocate in the race for HQ2.

HQ2’s impact on employment in Houston

The mayor has laid out a plan to build an “Innovation Corridor” to house HQ2. In Mayor Turner’s plan HQ2 would sit north of the Texas Medical Center, somewhere between Midtown and Downtown on “large contiguous tracts”, “separately or as part of a single, extended campus.” Employment in Houston would be forever changed if HQ2 put roots down in the Space City. Not only would direct employment impact occur, but it is expected that a spike in public transport employment, retail and customer service jobs, and enrollment in higher education programs would follow.

Amazon would bring a high quantity of jobs to Texas, and they would also bring quality that could institute change in our very employer-friendly state. Amazon is known for treating their employees well, providing access to great health care and innovative maternity and paternity leave benefits. They have been listed as Fortune’s #2 Most Admired company in the world and #2 on LinkedIn’s Most Desirable U.S. Employers list. Like Houston, Amazon welcomes diversity, and it shows, as they are among the Military Times’ Best for Vets list, an honor reserved for companies who are dedicated to providing employment opportunities for those who have served in the armed forces. All in all, Amazon would be a tremendous asset to Houston and Texas as a whole. Their dedication to equal opportunity employment and providing employee benefits could inspire other companies to do the same, or at the very least create some competition and incentive for them to match the benefits Amazon offers. In a market where the law doesn’t ask much of its employers, an invisible-hand like incentive could be just what H-town needs to make positive changes for employees.

While the selection of Houston for HQ2 is unlikely, we are known to be some of the best underdogs around. And who knows, crazier things have happened lately, like snow.

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