Enter Amazon? Photo by sk / Flickr

Call it common sense.

That is, in fact, the title of New York Times business writer James B. Stewart’s column, and yesterday, he used his inches to analyze exactly what Amazon is looking for as they court cities for their second headquarters. It takes until the very last line of his piece, but with all criteria considered, Stewart thinks Pittsburgh will be Amazon’s pick.

The competition is stiff. 238 cities across North America have submitted bids, he points out, though he suspects Amazon will whittle that list quickly before doing a deep dive into their finalists, and ultimately choosing a location next year.

So what attributes is Amazon looking for in a city? Stewart breaks it down:

First on Amazon’s list of “key preferences and decision drivers” is “site/building,” which the company describes as being of “paramount importance.”

This means far more than an attractive building or campus. Amazon prides itself on having its existing headquarters embedded in the urban fabric of Seattle.

*Cough cough, Hazelwood Green, cough cough*

He adds:

Cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Baltimore are rich in underutilized historic buildings and neighborhoods that could be imaginatively repurposed, offering Amazon the opportunity to be a transformative force, something that seems to be part of the company’s DNA.

What else?

Next on Amazon’s wish list are capital and operating costs” and “incentives,” which Amazon identifies as “high priority” considerations. That is as it should be, said Charles M. Elson, a professor and director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “Amazon’s first obligation is to its investors,” Professor Elson said, which means finding “the most cost-effective city in which to locate a second headquarters,” one that “will produce the most value for the company.”

Pittsburgh is on record as willing to play ball here. When the bid was submitted, NEXTpittsburgh reported that Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stated that any grants or tax credits Pittsburgh might offer would be based on deliverables. “I hope we get to that point,” Fitzgerald said.

“‘Labor Force’ is third on Amazon’s list,” Stewart writes. “The company appears to be bumping up against the limits of Seattle’s talent pool.” He adds:

Amazon appears less concerned with how many tech workers already live and work in an area than with its ability to attract the talent it wants. Seattle was hardly a tech magnet before Amazon, Microsoft and then a host of once-fledgling technology firms set up operations there. Amazon expects its arrival in a new city to have a similar impact.

Amazon adds that “a strong university system is required.”

CMU and Pitt just sat up a little straighter.

Amazon bigwigs also want their travel between HQs to be as easy as possible. “Amazon cites logistics as ‘critically important,’” Stewart says, “specifically the presence of an international airport that offers direct flights to Seattle, Washington, New York and San Francisco.”

Well isn’t this just perfect timing? Pittsburgh’s airport is about to get a major overhaul. We have a feeling that incorporating some Amazon-friendly flights can be made a priority.


“Community cultural fit” and “community quality of life” are last on Amazon’s list of preferences. Along with the usual amenities, Amazon specifically mentions “a diverse population” and, again, “excellent institutions of higher education” …

… Given Amazon’s vocal support for diversity and inclusion, it seems unlikely it would choose a city or state perceived as intolerant or that has moved to curb civil rights, like North Carolina’s widely publicized effort to curb gay and transgender rights.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Amazon likely feels it fits best in a blue dot, and that we are. (And when the president forgot that, we quickly reminded him.)

So it seems like Pittsburgh is checking a lot of boxes, right? Stewart certainly thinks so, and he would know. “There are obviously many variables still to be assessed,” he writes, “but based on these criteria and the weight I expect Amazon to place on them, here are my finalists, in descending order: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago and Boston.”

Tl;dr: We’re number one.

See James B. Stewart’s full article: “Following the (Bike) Trail to Amazon’s Second Headquarters.”

Ali Trachta

Ali Trachta joyfully returned home to Pittsburgh after a long stint at LA Weekly. Most recently she served as its online editor as well as digital strategist for its parent company, Voice Media Group,...