WASHINGTON, DC/SEPTEMBER 10, 2018: Rumors persists that when Amazon chief Jeff Bezos visits Washington this week he is likely to announce that northern Virginia will be the site of Amazon’s second headquarters.
Let’s hope this is NOT the case.
Other cities among the 20 finalists for Amazon’s HQ 2 need the promised economic stimulus of 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion of investment. Metropolitan Washington does not as its economy is booming with a shortage of skilled workers.
Amazon’s presence would greatly worsen already horrendous traffic conditions. It will drive home prices higher, making housing less affordable. Rents will similarly rise and the quality of life throughout the region will deteriorate.
Consider the impact on traffic and housing resulting from what the Council of Governments predicts would be an influx of 390,000 new residents. (Some put that number as high as one million over a decade) Eighty-seven thousand additional students will be added to already over-stretched schools. The influx of skilled employees will boost home prices, further pricing thousands out of the market. Zillow predicts that HQ 2 would boost median rents in the area by $138 per month.
The biggest impact will be traffic and the DC area is already ranked number six nationally in traffic congestion. Transport analytics firm INRIX says only LA, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami have worse traffic.
A recent study from Northeastern University found that the 6 mile stretch of I 95 between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg to be the worst hotspot in the country.
The factors favoring the DC area for HQ 2 are well known. Amazon web services is building a headquarters in Ashburn. Jeff Bezos has purchased and is renovating a luxurious home in Kalorama. He owns the Washington Post and Amazon is stepping up its lobbying on Capitol Hill. We have fine universities and three airports, one of which is regarded as under-utilized. Alexandria and Arlington rank high for quality of life.
But the need for Amazon’s HQ 2 is greater for most of the other finalist cities. Why not pick Raleigh, Nashville, Indianapolis, Columbus or Pittsburgh? Unemployment is higher in most of those cities while DC’s labor market is tight, with 3.5% unemployment.
Mine may not be a popular position. Policy makers are eager to have Amazon and rub their hands at the prospect of jobs and a three quarter of a billion dollar annual boost to tax revenue. But I would predict that once construction starts—assuming the DC area is selected—there will be second thoughts amid worsening traffic gridlock.
Four decade DC resident Barry D. Wood writes about the US and global economy.