Amazon HQ2, Washington D.C. Battles Its Suburbs In Virginia And Maryland Amazon is working on a whittled-down list of cities where it might build the second headquarters. Among the bidders, Washington, D.C., stands out for competing against two of its next-door neighbors.
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D.C. Un-United: Amazon's Second HQ Pits City Vs. Its Suburbs

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D.C. Un-United: Amazon's Second HQ Pits City Vs. Its Suburbs

D.C. Un-United: Amazon's Second HQ Pits City Vs. Its Suburbs

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. The suspense goes on. Amazon is soon going to announce a new shorter list of locations it is considering to host a second headquarters, and the bidding race is super competitive. At stake are some 50,000 jobs with an average salary of six figures. The bids from the Washington, D.C., area really stand out for a particular lack of teamwork. NPR's Alina Selyukh met up with Martin Austermuhle from member station WAMU. He's been covering the politics of wooing Amazon.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Martin and I are on a bridge behind a landmark transit hub in Washington, D.C. It's called Union Station. This is a fast-growing neighborhood, one of several being pitched for Amazon's HQ2.

MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE, BYLINE: Union Station is behind us. The train tracks kind of stretch in front of us heading north out of the city.

SELYUKH: How far are we from Maryland and Virginia here?

AUSTERMUHLE: I think five or six miles in any one direction.

SELYUKH: In another universe, the District of Columbia and nearby parts of Maryland and Virginia could easily be one giant city. Everyone here rides the same Metro, comes out to the same baseball and football games, either works for the federal government or knows someone who does. But when it came to wooing Amazon, three parts of this one metro area - Washington, Northern Virginia and the Montgomery County in Maryland - decided to compete.

AUSTERMUHLE: It would stand to reason that this is exactly the sort of place - these are elected officials that interact on a daily basis - they could've sat down and had a conversation and said, listen, we all want Amazon HQ2 to come to the region. Let's not make it more expensive for each of us individually by one-upping each other with incentives.

SELYUKH: Did that happen?

AUSTERMUHLE: No.

SELYUKH: It did happen in other large metro areas. For example, places like Denver or Dallas drew the entire region into one pitch. In fact, Amazon encouraged local governments to join forces for a unified bid. But the nation's capital is special with so many suburbs belonging to two completely different states and so different taxpayers and different governors who all want to bring home their own bacon.

VICTOR HOSKINS: You have to see that you can't do it alone. You know, you can't confront the challenge alone. You have to see you've got to confront it together.

SELYUKH: Victor Hoskins is with Arlington County, Northern Va. He says it takes a major breakthrough, something like tackling the regional subway system to convince separate states to spend their taxpayer money on one joint mission.

HOSKINS: That's the kind of conclusion that the jurisdictions have to come to, and it's not an easy one to come to. People sometimes can't agree on what movie to go to.

SELYUKH: Hoskins has a word for the relationship in the region.

HOSKINS: Co-opitition (ph). And I call us frenemies.

SELYUKH: And not just any kind of frenemies but frenemies who generously borrow each other's backyards. All three finalist bids around here tout many of the same perks - airports in Virginia and Maryland, universities and museums in D.C. and some of the smartest workers in the country. And what I haven't mentioned yet is that there was a fourth bid from the D.C. metro region, one that didn't make the finalist list. It came from Maryland's Prince George's County. Economic Development chief David Iannucci says they crafted their own pitch because Maryland's governor basically told all counties to fend for themselves.

DAVID IANNUCCI: So I think there's a very strong chance we didn't make the cut because of the way that happened.

SELYUKH: When you met with Amazon, did they...

IANNUCCI: They cited the No. 1 reason that we didn't make the cut was an absence of senior software development engineers.

SELYUKH: This is a bit ironic because we're talking about a county that's home to the University of Maryland, College Park, which has a top-rated computer science program and definitely features in the bids that did make the cut. Iannucci says he tried to explain this to Amazon, but...

IANNUCCI: It's like saying your teenage date, take me back.

SELYUKH: Lately, the three D.C.-area finalists have been taking great pains to say that they aren't actually rivals. The governors of Maryland and Virginia, along with the mayor of Washington, wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reassuring him they are, quote, "much more than just neighbors." They say they are partners with a shared vision for the future. Meanwhile, Martin has been digging into how the three are competing financially.

AUSTERMUHLE: Maryland is offering one of the biggest buckets of money that anyone knows about - some $5 billion worth of tax breaks and other perks. We don't really know what Virginia is offering. And D.C. shared a document about its financial incentives but redacted some of the juiciest details.

SELYUKH: The bottom line is this for local officials - even if Amazon's workers come from the whole region, and even if the whole region benefits from the prestige, it's the winning location that gets most of those sweet tax dollars. And that's why Amazon now has to choose not just among 20 metro areas but three neighbors in one metro area, though some folks around Washington would say that's three times the chances of getting picked. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

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