Will Amazon Make Chicago Great Again?

Future Amazon HQ - .PNG

Amazon announced a ‘beauty contest’ for its second corporate HQ and Chicago belongs among the early frontrunners. The city is taking the contest very seriously - it even created a 600-member bid committee formed by local businessmen, entrepreneurs, artists and community representatives to champion Chicago and help develop a concrete proposal.

Chicago will face strong competition as just about every metropolitan area in the US, including Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, New York, Dallas and even Chicago’s close neighbors Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Gary, indicated interest to attract Amazon. However, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel believes that his city’s prospects are strong. “What city can say to you, unlike Seattle or San Francisco or New York, is one-third of the cost of living of those cities and has a cultural attraction equal to those cities? That makes Chicago the most competitive city.”

Amazon will assess candidate cities based on a number of criteria that include size, business environment, ability to attract talent and attractive locations. Chicago certainly ticks off several of important dimensions. Real estate magazine Curbed.com lists Chicago among the main contenders thanks to its rail and air transportation infrastructure, attractive urban amenities, affordable housing and several development areas that could accommodate the up to 50,000 employees Amazon intends to eventually locate in its second HQ – for example the Old Chicago Main Post Office. Proximity to at least two top US universities (including Chicago Booth - Amazon’s number one source of MBA hires) and emerging tech sector should also speak in favour of Chicago. However, the city also has some strong issues, particularly its budget problems, high taxation and soaring crime rate. Success of its bid will depend on the city’s and state’s administration’s ability to collaborate and overcome Chicago’s weaknesses.

The city would likely strongly benefit from winning the much publicised competition even if it offered Amazon significant tax exemptions. Attracting one of the most valuable US corporation could reverse the streak of mostly negative news and help Chicago overcome emerging reputation of a failing city with declining population and close to bankruptcy. Amazon’s presence would foster already emerging Chicago tech ecosystem and help the city find its new defining industry. Amazon’s arrival could be a boon for the whole struggling Midwest region.

It also wouldn’t be the first time that Chicago managed to “steal” a major company from Seattle. When Boeing decided to move from the West coastal town to Chicago in 2001, Seattle lost its most famous corporation and biggest employer. But one’s city loss is another city’s gain and Amazon does not plan to leave Seattle completely - at least yet.

So, will Amazon make Chicago great again?