I’m from the Boston area — here’s why I think it’s the last place Amazon should build HQ2

Boston is a top contender for Amazon's much-desired second headquarters, HQ2.

caption
Boston is a top contender for Amazon’s much-desired second headquarters, HQ2.
source
Screenshot via Boston’s Amazon HQ2 Proposal

  • Amazon is considering Boston as a home for its second headquarters, HQ2.
  • Boston may seem like a great choice, with its highly educated labor pool, nearby universities,d irect access to public transit, and vibrant urban center.
  • But HQ2 could exacerbate a serious housing shortage in Boston, making the benefits of hosting Amazon not worth the cost to its residents.

Boston was just named a finalist for Amazon’s much-desired second headquarters.

As a native of the Greater Boston area, I think it’s a terrible idea.

A shortlist of the 20 cities that Amazon is considering for HQ2 was released on Thursday, and among the contenders were cities big and small: New York, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Austin. Boston was the only New England city to make the cut, though not for a shortage of bids.

The future HQ2 will bring a $5 billion investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs to the winning city. But if Amazon decides to build in Boston, it would be a missed opportunity to shape a different city and region. Boston already has a booming tech industry, one of the lowest rates of unemployment on Amazon’s shortlist, and a housing shortage that would only be exacerbated by an influx of new people.

In other words, Boston is fine without Amazon’s HQ2.

Boston is an obvious pick

An artistic rendering shows HQ2 in the Suffolk Downs site in Boston.

caption
An artistic rendering shows HQ2 in the Suffolk Downs site in Boston.
source
Screenshot via Boston’s Amazon HQ2 Proposal

News outlets and analysts have long predicted that Boston will be a top contender in Amazon’s competition. Business Insider looked at seven rankings and produced a new ranking based on how many times each city appeared on these lists. Boston was named the second best pick for HQ2, after Atlanta.

The widespread confidence in Boston is for one key reason: talent.

“The metro division is one of only a few places nationally with a talent pool deep enough to provide tens of thousands of highly skilled workers sought by Amazon,” Moody’s Analytics wrote. Amazon has said it’s seeking a highly educated labor pool and nearby universities.

Boston and its neighboring city, Cambridge, are home to one of the world’s largest biotechnology industries and a world-class system of higher education, anchored by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The metro area boasts over 1,000 biotech companies (from big pharma to small startups), academic centers, and life science groups.

For Amazon, other important factors include direct access to public transit, a nearby international airport, and a vibrant urban center. Boston ticks off all the right boxes.

There’s nowhere to build

Over one to two decades of development, HQ2 will cover up to 100 acres – an area twice as big as Boston Common. It’s hard to imagine where Boston will find the room.

The city pitched several locations in its bid, and it’s unclear from the Amazon announcement which it’s considering. Boston is pushing the Suffolks Down site, a former racetrack that straddles the border of East Boston and the city of Revere. The 161-acre site offers “a blank canvas for the HQ2 development,” according to the city’s proposal. But critics have noted that the area sits in a flood plain and has access to fewer lines of public transit than sites downtown.

And the rent, as they say, is too damn high

Boston is the fifth most expensive city in the US, and that doesn’t bode well for Amazon, which has said that quality of life (and how much it costs workers) will be a “critical decision driver.”

The city’s population is growing, pushing up rents and the cost of homes. A 2017 report from the mayor’s office revealed that “the median household income in Boston is the same as the nation, but homes are two-and-a-half times as expensive.” Wealthy professionals are displacing many low- and middle-income residents, and incidents of mass eviction continue to rise.

HQ2 will bring an influx of tech workers from across the country – though Amazon will also recruit from the region’s labor pool – which could further strain the housing market.

Can Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos weather the Boston chill?

caption
Can Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos weather the Boston chill?
source
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There are both tremendous benefits and costs to having Amazon set up camp in your city.

“Bringing in up to 50,000 jobs into a city is pretty much an event you can’t duplicate any other way. … It’s akin to winning the lottery,” Steve Glickman, cofounder and executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, told CNN.

But a job stimulus of that scale would have a greater effect on a city with a weaker economy. A majority of the cities that Amazon is considering have higher rates of unemployment (by a slim margin) than Boston. Plus, an influx of workers would cause housing costs to climb, traffic to worsen, and public transit use to swell. Boston is already strained in those regards.

We can see what “Amazonia” has done to Seattle, where Amazon first settled. Seattle’s median home price hit $730,000 in mid-2017, about double the price seen five years ago.

My advice to Boston? Tell Amazon to keep looking.