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Don’t Bet Against the Baltimore-Washington Area in Amazon’s HQ2 Search

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The deadline for cities and metropolitan regions to submit bids to host Amazon’s second headquarters—and 50,000 jobs paying an average of $100,000 that come with it—passed Thursday following an unprecedented competition among local and state governments to entice the behemoth business.

Newark, N.J., offered $7 billion in tax credits; Pittsburgh is counting on its low cost of living and thriving tech scene; San Diego is banking on a quality of life factor that comes with sunshine and warm temperatures, and New York City is New York City.

Several dozen cities have publicly acknowledged submitting bids, and the total number of bids could eclipse 100 when the dust clears. Yet Amazon’s conditions—metropolitan areas with over 1 million people; business-friendly environments, strong infrastructure and transportation options; urban or suburban areas able to attract/retain top technical talent and creative real estate options, among others—will likely weed out many cities wooing the retail and tech giant.

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Bids cast from Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Maryland or Washington, D.C. stand at least a reasonable chance of being selected as Amazon’s second HQ.

“My dark horse is Baltimore,” said Patrick McKenna, managing partner at HighRidge Global, speaking Thursday at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution and CityLab, a publication owned by Nextgov’s parent company.

McKenna, a Silicon Valley-based investor, said Under Armour’s meteoric success in Baltimore coupled with its desirable East Coast location between tech hubs like Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York make the city a very appealing option. The city’s $5.5 billion Port Covington project boasts several hundred acres of real estate, and Maryland happens to have the highest concentration of employees in STEM occupations among all states.

“I see a lot going on in Baltimore, if you look closer, you might see a different story than you think,” McKenna said.

Columbia and Prince George’s County have also reportedly submitted bids, banking on the same kind of prime location in southern Maryland, and proximity to both Baltimore and the Beltway.

Washington, D.C., also submitted a bid to host Amazon’s HQ2. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, also purchased the most expensive home in the city late last year, dropping $23 million on a mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood. Washington is at the center of U.S. decision-making and has rail lines and development in spades, but it’s also saddled with horrendous traffic and high real-estate costs.

Elizabeth Lindsey, executive director at Byte Back, said she thought Washington, with a growing workforce, diverse culture and ability to pull talent from across the country, merits strong consideration from Amazon.

However, the nation’s capital might face a challenge from a joint bid from Virginia’s Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Both counties boast a thriving tech scene, amenities and proximity to Washington, Baltimore and three airports, and collectively, they’re reportedly pitching a 26-acre Center for Innovative Technology site to Amazon for no cost.

The incentives may not matter all that much to Amazon, McKenna said. Existing tech talent may be far more important.

“I don’t think you can buy this bid,” McKenna said. “You can’t give them $10 billion and buy it if you are the wrong fit. I’m less worried about tax incentives here. If you don’t have the skills to fill these jobs, you can’t buy these jobs.”

Do Fairfax and Loudoun counties cut it, workforce wise? The ball is now in Amazon’s court, but there is evidence the company favors Northern Virginia.

Amazon Web Services, the company’s most profitable business, recently announced a new East Coast corporate headquarters at One Dulles Tower in Fairfax County. That expansion is expected to add as many as 1,500 jobs and gives the leading cloud service provider a bigger presence near an expanding federal market.

Already, AWS’ public-sector business boasts more than 2,300 federal, state and local government customers, including agencies like NASA, the military and the CIA. The company also announced a series of new East Coast data centers to accommodate its customers’ increased cloud computing needs.

Could Amazon take a page out of Amazon Web Services’ playbook and set up shop in the DMV? A decision isn’t likely for at least a few months, but the DMV has at least as solid a chance as any region.

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