The municipal mega-beauty-pageant over which city Amazon selects for its second headquarters this year is heating up. According to insiders, Atlanta, ranked among the top three contenders, brings even more to the competition than most realize. The discussion is moving beyond Atlanta's unstoppable talent and untamable traffic into dimensions that make Atlanta not just another good location, but more of a real home.

Amazon: hunting a HQ2 or a second home?

In interview after interview with my neighbors in Atlanta, I learned the city sees itself deeply intertwined with Amazon core businesses. For example,

  • Trade.The nearby Port of Savannah is the largest shipping port on the East Coast, the largest single container terminal in all of North America, and the second busiest container exporter in the country.
  • Entertainment & media. Georgia ranked first in the world in total feature film productions recently--and the 30% tax break keeps luring more. 
  • Gaming. Atlanta is home to one of the biggest and longest-running gaming meccas, DragonCon, which brings 80,000 gamers, science fiction and fantasy fans, and film buffs to the city each Labor Day.
  • Logistics. Logistics talent and infrastructure in Atlanta is anchored by UPS and Delta. Amazon recently chose Atlanta's midtown for a logistics command center, in the same neighborhood as software leaders like Mailchimp, Kabbage, and Cardlytics.
  • Speaking of Atlanta tech companies, Pindrop recently released security AI that can recognize you by your voice. Sound good for Amazon's Alexa suite?

Like Amazon, Atlanta plans big.

  • Data storage. The city committed to 100% renewable, clean energy for the metroplex by 2035.
  • With this much synergy, it's not surprising that Seattle recruits more tech talent from Atlanta than from any other city, according to LinkedIn recruiting data.

Here are a few perspectives from Atlanta insiders on Amazon's HQ2:

Ryan Wilson, Founder and CEO, The Gathering Spot

There is no other city like Atlanta. Unlike other cities, our greatest export here is our culture. This is the place to be if you want your ideas to capture the world's attention. From the Civil Rights movement to Coca-Cola, to your favorite major film or hit song, we're a global city that has always known how to share the magic that is created here with the rest of the world. Amazon is one of the most innovative companies of our time, and I think its hustle matches ours.

Maryam Alavi, Dean, Scheller College of Business
Georgia Institute of Technology

Why Atlanta? Momentum!

In Atlanta, we have legacy corporations, start-ups, top tech programs at universities, and established tech and supply hubs.  Combining those with our geography and quality of life, the city has a unique innovation ecosystem. Amazon can capitalize on this momentum to further accelerate innovation and growth.

Steven Hong, CEO, Sylvane

Amazon is becoming a complete end-to-end fulfillment and transportation provider not only for themselves but for other retailers. As Amazon continues to grow in this area they will have access to lots of ex-UPS people to tap as a talent pool to assist in their logistics expansion. Plus, People tend to over-focus on Amazon's retail business not realizing that their profits come from the other parts of their business such as cloud computing. Atlanta is a tech hub for the Southeast and as such a lot of Amazon's current and future clients are located here. In addition, with Amazon becoming a media company and Atlanta being an offshoot of Hollywood these days, there may opportunities to be had there as well.

Asha Chaudhary, CEO, Jaipur Living

Atlanta has a long history of major and startup consumer brands (Coca-Cola, OtterBox, Jaipur Living), from which to source talent and product.  Also, while it is the feather in everyone's cap to work at Amazon, the company is battling high housing prices and inflated living expenses near its headquarters, which make it difficult to retain top talent as they age, have families, and their priorities shift. The average four-bedroom home in Seattle sells for nearly $700k. In Atlanta, that same house goes for just over $300k. Their employees could afford to buy their dream home, send their kids to private school, vacation in the Caymans, and still put money toward their 401k. Happy employees? Happy company. 

David Payne, Serial entrepreneur. Co-Founder, Switchyards

Atlanta is a perfect fit for Amazon due to politics and location.  We are an ideal political counterbalance to Seattle in an era where people are very divided politically.  We are in a more conservative part of the country, we have a very diverse population and Atlanta (as a whole) is a good example of "an average American big city."  These could be important influences for Amazon going forward.  Being geographically close to Walmart - their biggest rival - has some advantages, like competing for talent.  Lastly, it just looks really cool to have Amazon HQs on the exact opposite ends of the country from northwest to southeast.

Irv Grossman, Executive Vice President, Consulting, Chainalytics

Amazon should view Atlanta as a supply chain ecosystem. Atlanta's first name was "Terminus"--logistics has been the life-blood from the beginning. Today, our supply chain ecosystem boasts companies such as UPS, Delta, and Manhattan Associates calling Atlanta home. Our Chamber of Commerce uses the hashtag #SupplyChainCity. The city has big shoulders to support growth and a professional base which fluently speaks the language of supply chain with the capability to execute at scale.

Theia Smith, Founding Executive Director, City of Atlanta's Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative

The city's texture defines it.  As the city that birthed the civil rights movement, confronting socioeconomic issues with respect and intent, and then working to solve them peacefully, is unique to Atlanta's DNA.  At its core, this is a city that embraces the authenticity of its people. Most people, like me, choose to be here to pursue their passions, so we are an intentional city.

Holly Beilin, Editor-in-Chief, Hypepotamus

According to a 2017 CBRE report, Atlanta was the third largest market by percent change for tech labor growth. As one of the top engineering schools in the country -- and one that regularly leads the pack in graduating the most female engineers -- Georgia Tech alumni are coveted by Silicon Valley companies. We have 3 of the top 20 HBCU schools in the country within the metro area, which helps Atlanta stand out for producing diverse tech talent, augmented by top coding schools and technical bootcamps. This abundant, high-quality and diverse talent pool has already attracted leading technology companies to relocate or expand here.

Matt Gates 

Finance Student at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business

Amazon was a business born from a contrarian bet. Who would've thought that you could sell books on the web back in 1994? Who would've thought that the e-commerce company could've launched one of the biggest cloud computing platforms, along with a host of other successful businesses?

Across Emory, Georgia Tech, and the University of Georgia, students are beginning to explore careers in the tech industry regardless of their major, whether it be in the arts or the sciences. Should Amazon choose Atlanta, they would undoubtedly be able to take advantage of this pipeline of both technical and non-technical students.

Jean-Luc VanHulst, President, Write2Market

Atlanta pairs diversity across race, skills, and industries with a scrappy startup up feel. From the booming film industry (which alone should mean a lot for Amazon) to the booming tech startup scene and solid financial services foundation, Atlanta really has it all. 

The one thing that Atlanta doesn't have yet is an attitude. We're still way to modest about everything  ATL has to offer!

Erica Stanley, Engineering Manager, SalesLoft

There's so much to love about Atlanta, but the thing that I love most is this is a city with diversity in its DNA. Even as Atlanta becomes increasingly recognized as a leading startup and technology hub, community leaders are working to make sure women, minorities, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities -- everyone is a part of that growth. For instance, while it's true we are a city with world-renowned schools, graduating some of the top tech talent in the country. Those same schools, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State and the HBCUs of the Atlanta University Center, are routinely the top producers of African-American engineers. There are programs and incubators such as digitalundivided's BIG Center and Startup Runway working to expand entrepreneurship funding and opportunities to underrepresented groups. We are ensuring that as we grow, all of our community grows with us.

Vince Calhoun, Director, Application Development, ADP

We are a community of nomads, explorers and refugees.  It is rare to find someone in Atlanta that grew up in Atlanta and because of that we have vibrant cultures around every corner from the familiar to the exotic. Yes, that makes us different as individuals and we fight and love and support each other like any family, but one trip to any Atlanta United game and you'll see the full spectrum and all of the radiance that Atlanta has to offer.  One drive down Buford Highway seeking a meal and you'll know we have the passion and expertise of the world boiled down to one big town that feels small and local, and also unlimited. Ride a MARTA train from one end of the line to the other and see the unsung heroes that make up Atlanta's formidable work force. Atlanta is people, and we have had the privilege of being home to some of the most outstanding members of humanity.

Innovation destination

Atlanta insiders focus more on what Atlanta can do for Amazon, than what Amazon can do for Atlanta. Atlanta clearly doesn't want Amazon to settle for a sterile "number 2 HQ." In fact, these perspectives urge the company to set a high bar--rather than a bounty--in its hunt for a true second home. If it does that,  ATL is down for AMZ.

Published on: Jan 29, 2018