Sacramento and Kansas City aren't exactly the sexiest metropolitan areas, but they could attract one of the world's most valuable companies in 2018.

Indeed, both cities are dark horse candidates that analysts say have a shot at being selected to host Amazon's second headquarters. Since announcing the project in early September, the e-commerce giant has received as many as 238 bids, from cities ranging from little-known Stonecrest, Georgia, to San Francisco.

It's clear, of course, why so many cities threw their hats in the ring. Amazon says it plans to spend more than $5 billion on the project, which can support up to 50,000 employees and up to 8 million square feet of office space, according to documentation released in September. Being chosen to support Amazon's business could bring millions of dollars in state revenue to the winning area, while creating thousands of jobs for residents. Amazon, which is calling the project "HQ2," plans to announce the location in 2018.  

Last month, Inc. published a list of 6 cities most likely to host the HQ2, based on interviews with a dozen analysts, entrepreneurs and investors who follow or are otherwise familiar with the e-commerce giant. Although the research indicates that Atlanta, Austin, or Philadelphia have the best odds, there are a handful of underdogs that experts say the company would be remiss not to consider.

In no particular order, here's a look at 5 dark horse candidates that could end up hosting Amazon's next headquarters:

1. Kansas City, Missouri

Sly James, the Kansas City mayor, recently purchased 1,000 items on Amazon.com, giving each of them a glowing 5-star review. The catch? Each write-up included a not-so-subtle reference to the Missouri city, including why Amazon should select it as the location for its second headquarters. (Take, for instance, this review of a set of $14 wind-chimes, which hearkens to the relative affordability of KC: "When it comes to my house and my housewares, there's nothing I value more than bang for my buck," writes James. "I live in beautiful Kansas City, where the average home price is just $122,000, so I know luxe living doesn't have to cost a ton.") 

The low cost of housing in the heartland hub is certainly a selling point, as is Kansas City's strong school districts, and the proximity to an international airport--a requirement as outlined last year by Amazon. Adding to these factors, city officials have teased access to an ultra-high speed transportation system, such as Elon Musk's Hyperloop, to accelerate the company's growth. According to recent press reports, the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor is a top contender for a Hyperloop route.

These factors make the city a strong candidate in the race for HQ2, according to Joel Kotkin, an analyst and professor of urban studies at Chapman University in Orange, California, who was commissioned to help the city craft its bid. "Kansas City is a jewel in the heartland, with a great cultural heritage, affordable housing of all kinds and, most of all, a strong spirit of cooperation across the whole region," he said in a press release. 

2. Sacramento, California

While affectionately lampooned in the recent film Lady Bird, Sacramento, California, has its own unique draw for Amazon.

In 2011, when Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg was the state Senate leader, California had proposed forcing e-commerce companies like Amazon to collect sales taxes.  When Amazon threatened a referendum to overturn the law, Steinberg helped to broker a deal that delayed the tax from going into effect, and additionally allowed Amazon to build warehouses in California, the Sacramento Bee reports. In that sense, then, Jeff Bezos could owe the city a huge favor.

Add to this that Sacramento has a relatively diverse population, especially as a so-called "sanctuary city," and Amazon is likely to consider it for HQ2. Indeed, the California capital is ranked tenth in the nation for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates. Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown has said that he's willing to offer Amazon $200 million in tax credits over five years, plus $100 million for workforce training over the next decade, if it places its second headquarters in the state.

These factors certainly put the city in the running, but to be sure, it has a reputation to overcome. As the writer Joan Didion once said: "Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento."

3. Newark, New Jersey

With commercial rents just a third to half of those in New York City, the New Jersey city's affordability is likely to pique Amazon's interest. Meanwhile, Governor Chris Christie has offered the company up to $7 billion in tax breaks, should it decide to build in Jersey. 

Amazon already has several distribution centers in Newark, where it employs 5,500 workers, as well as the Audible headquarters. These would make HQ2 a logical extension. Plus, the city sits above the fiber optic cable spine that runs along the Eastern seaboard, which means that Amazon in Newark could access some of the fastest Internet service in the country.

Newark is also a good sub for New York City, which has oodles of talent and mass transit. "New York can win," said Anderson Economic Group founder Patrick Anderson, in a recent interview with the New York Times, but with the high cost of doing business there, "it can't be in Manhattan, and I doubt it will work in Brooklyn." Newark, albeit less glamorous, is only an 18-minute train ride away. 

4. Los Angeles

Matt McIlwain, the managing director at Seattle-based investment firm Madrona Venture Group, says that Amazon is likely to go where it already has a concentration of expertise. And as the company builds out its fast-growing entertainment arm, Amazon Studios, he says Los Angeles makes sense as a location for the second headquarters, given the area's strength in media, and the tech talent readily available as part of the so-called "Silicon Beach." Sites proposed in the official Los Angeles bid include Long Beach, Pomona, and Santa Clarita, while Amazon recently announced that it would be moving its Studios operations from Santa Monica to Culver City.

The independent prediction market Paddy Power, where many analysts are looking, puts Los Angeles' odds at 33:1, alongside Salt Lake City, Utah, but coming in behind California competitors Sacramento and San Jose.

5. Toronto, Ontario

Read the documentation again: Amazon never said that it was looking exclusively at the United States. That's why some experts are betting on Toronto, where the company would have access to the city's high-tech waterfront neighborhood, the Quayside, currently under construction. Ontario graduates tens of thousands of technically-trained workers each year, from schools such as the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, as well as the nearby University of Waterloo, where Silicon Valley heavyweights already recruit heavily. And if the local talent isn't sufficient for Amazon, Canada recently launched a brand new "Global Talent" visa program, which lets international workers obtain a visa in just two weeks' time. As President Trump moves to trim back legal immigration stateside, the program could prove useful to Amazon, which currently relies heavily on the H-1B visa. 

Although Canadian cities Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, and Ottawa have all submitted proposals to host Amazon's HQ2, Paddy Power gives Toronto the better odds, currently 16:1.

Published on: Jan 3, 2018