Has Atlanta won the Amazon HQ2 derby?

amazon hq photoAmazon Web Services' offices near Dulles

There’s speculation that Atlanta has aced the Amazon HQ2 competition, and it’s all based on the company’s hiring a lobbyist to represent it in Georgia. This might sound silly but lobbyists are, in essence, the bodyguards of big business and no global enterprise would think of shedding its band of influencers.

“Follow the lobbyists” long ago replaced “follow the money” when it comes to reading the tea leaves of corporate intentions. That’s why Amazon’s hiring of lobbyist Jacob Oster on December 7 has set tongues wagging in Atlanta and in economic development circles around the country.

The Washington, D.C., area — including Northern Virginia — has been on observers’ “most-likely” lists, owing partly to the region’s extensive mass transit, talent pool and two international airports. It also has been seen as helpful that Herndon, Va., is already home to a large Amazon Web Services (AWS) operation, that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and also that Bezos is buying a home in D.C.

Major strikes against D.C., though, are its high housing prices and chronic traffic constipation. While Atlanta also suffers from traffic woes, it has much lower housing prices and a massive airport that has direct flights to just about anywhere you can think of. It also has a web of major research universities in and around the Atlanta area and a growing tech-savvy work force.

HQ2 competitors

Hundreds of cities submitted bids for the so-called “HQ2” competition, although few met all of the qualifications laid down by Amazon. Besides D.C. and Atlanta, front-runners were generally regarded as Boston, New York, and Austin. It also has an existing AWS office.

Oster’s hiring was first reported by Business Insider and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which said that Oster, a lobbyist with expertise in “clean energy and technology,” registered Dec. 7 with the state ethics commission. He listed addresses in Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

The Georgia legislature doesn’t convene again until January and Amazon has said it will announce its choice for HQ2 next year. The retail giant is expected to demand huge tax incentives from whatever city and state it chooses. Oster’s appointment could be the first step in determining whether Georgia is willing to cough up the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives that Amazon will be seeking.

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James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.