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Winning Amazon’s second headquarters has pros and cons


In this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, photo, large spheres take shape in front of an existing Amazon building and in view of the Space Needle in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson | AP

In this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, photo, large spheres take shape in front of an existing Amazon building and in view of the Space Needle in Seattle.

Head coaches have set aside rivalries and one city offered to change its name. Others are taking the more traditional approaches of promising huge tax windfalls and new state-of-the-art transit systems. But history shows luring Amazon’s second headquarters may not be a slam dunk for the victorious city.

The deadline for cities to submit bids to become Amazon’s second headquarters is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday for what many cities see as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to grab an economic golden ticket.

On the line: more than $5 billion in construction spending to build its second headquarters and high-paying tech jobs that will, in turn, generate tens of thousands of additional jobs and “tens of billions of dollars” in investment in the surrounding communities.

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But it’s not all skittles and beer, or jobs and growth. Seattle offers a cautionary tale of both the good and the bad that can befall the home of one of America’s fastest-growing companies.

The good news is jobs, jobs and more jobs. Amazon’s Sept. 7 announcementpromised more than 50,000 of them. But it’s more than that. It’s also the opportunity to attract a workforce that will stoke the local economy buying electric cars, artisanal bread and everything else they’ll need to build a life. And don’t forget all the other companies that will follow Amazon to wherever it lands.

“Amazon is magnetic to talent,” said Jeffrey Shulman, a professor of urban planning at the University of Washington who studies growth in Seattle.

But there’s a mixed blessing: Unless your town is extraordinarily full of tech workers already, many of those jobs will go to people moving in from elsewhere.

“You have to think about how many of your residents are set up to fill some of those. What’s your education infrastructure? Do you have a strong STEM program in your city?” Shulman said.

If not, you could get the worst of both worlds — local residents who don’t have any hope of participating in the new economy but who see their housing costs balloon as hordes of tech workers flood in.

Housing and traffic congestion are the two biggest pain points. Unless a city has an enormous reserve of unused housing, there’s no way Amazon-created demand won’t push up costs and push out current residents.

The only way around it is to build lots more housing that’s accessible to public transit. That’s not always possible, said C.J. Gabbe, a professor of urban planning at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif.

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