Why did Charlotte NC not get chosen for Amazon's HQ2 shortlist?
Amazon has not issued a statement detailing why certain cities, including Charlotte, were omitted from the shortlist of potential HQ2 locations. Possible theories and speculations include lack of a solid package, Charlotte’s stance on LGBTQ issues, lack of a top-tier research university, Bezos’ bias toward the east, lack of transportation infrastructure, and lack of monetary incentives. Below is an overview of each theory.
On January 18, 2018, Amazon released the shortlist of cities being considered for the second headquarter location. The list was narrowed from 238 possible candidates to 20. Though there has not been an official press release explaining why certain cities were cut and others were not, there is speculation surrounding the choices. Theories surrounding the omission of Charlotte range from the cities social issues to financial issues. Though there are very little direct quotes concerning Charlotte being cut from the list, several media outlets have offered published opinions.
Lack of a Solid Package
By comparing the cities that were chosen to those that were omitted from the shortlist, it is believed that Bezos is looking for an all around solid package that incorporates the values and lifestyle of the company. The Request for Proposal (RFP) makes it clear that a ‘cultural fit’ and ‘quality of life’ are important factors that will be taken into consideration. The city chosen will support diversity and have political officials that are willing to work with the company. It should also offer ample recreation and educational opportunities, as well as a high quality of living. There is no indication that Charlotte could not offer those things, however, according to Forbes contributor, Pete Saunders, the other cities may have “just beat them out.”
Stance on LGBTQ Issues
Amazon is an award-winning LGBTQ friendly company. It is only one of 13 companies that received 100% on the Human Rights Index's Corporate Equality Index in 2017. It’s founder, Jeff Bezos, won the Human Rights Campaign's National Equality Award in October 2017. It follows that the company would want the area chosen for their next headquarters to support these values. The inclusion of the ‘cultural fit’ component of the RFP, suggests that this is a priority in selecting the city. Author Sarah Holder has suggested in Pacific Standard Magazine that North Carolina’s recent attempt at passing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act could be a factor in Charlotte’s exclusion. This doesn’t explain why Raleigh, North Carolina was chosen, however, the city could have had a more comprehensive overall package. In the end, Raleigh may lose out for the same reason.
Lack of a Top-Tier Research University
The RFP requested an overview of the local universities including relevant degrees and the number of students that had graduated with those degrees in the last three years. It is clear that the company is looking for a city that can provide a highly skilled workforce pool from which to draw. Economics professor and urban econ expert, Fred Smith, theorizes that Charlotte was not chosen because it does not have a top-tier research university in the area that can fulfill those needs.
Bezos’ Eastern Bias
Entrepreneur Richard Meldner sees an obvious bias toward an eastern city based off of the cities that did make the shortlist. He believes that HQ2 will most likely end up in the Washington DC area, though not necessarily in the city itself. Bezos owns The Washington Post as well as a home in the area. Being close to the center of policymaking could be an advantage to the company.
Lack of Transportation Infrastructure
The actual proposed site for Charlotte was Iredell County which is located about 30 miles north of the city. Russ Rogerson, executive director of Statesville Regional Development, reported that the proposed land site was publicly owned and could accommodate the necessary 8 million square feet of space. It met the Amazon requirements of being within 45 minutes from an international airport and 30 miles of a populous city. However, its lack of a mass transportation infrastructure could have been its downfall.
Lack of Monetary Incentives
Charlotte may have lost out to Raleigh due to lack of monetary incentives. It is reported that Raleigh offered an incentive package that included $50 million over 20 years. According to an analysis done by Bloomberg, the monetary incentive, combined with Raleigh having a high-level education cluster in the immediate and surrounding area, could be the reason Raleigh was chosen over Charlotte.
Charlotte’s failure to offer an over-all solid package is reported to be the main reason it was omitted from the short list of possible locations for Amazon’s HQ2. Factors such as the state’s stance on LGBTQ issues, lack of a top-tier research university, Bezos’ bias toward the east, lack of transportation infrastructure, and lack of monetary incentives, all contributed to the weakening the package.