Denver Snubbed As Amazon Splits HQ2 Between East Coast Cities

Jim Hill/CPR News
The Amazon fulfillment center in Thornton, Colo.
Photo: Amazon Denver 3 | Thornton Warehouse Sign - JHill
The Amazon fulfillment center in Thornton, Colo.

After more than a year of searching, Amazon has chosen New York City and Northern Virginia for its massive second headquarters. In the end, even though the New York Times said Denver was the city to beat, it was left out altogether.

Amazon’s pick of two East Coast cities noted things like world-class talent and transit as factors, but also billions of dollars in incentives from both cities. Colorado doesn’t have the same flexibility to offer generous incentive packages.

The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, which spearheaded the state’s bid, often said they would not compete on incentives.

“We did not think it was fiscally responsible, or respectful for the taxpayers, to outside of the bounds of what’s currently in law,” said Sam Bailey, the Metro Denver EDC’s vice president of economic development.

Gov. John Hickenlooper gave Denver about a 20 percent chance to land Amazon and its 50,000 employees. He noted that the e-commerce giant probably wanted a location with an East Coast time zone. Which is exactly the decision the company made.

But the foremost issue was likely Colorado's population. Amazon would have a tough time hiring enough employees here. Comparatively, “locations like New York, Northern Virginia have a much larger population for them to pull from over the long term,” Bailey said.

Colorado officials made a serious-minded bid for Amazon. They didn’t have giant cactuses delivered to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO. They didn’t go on and give a bunch of five-star reviews. They led with the elements that make Denver attractive to many: a highly educated workforce, a world class airport with connections to downtown and the state’s highly-touted quality of life.

“We knew Colorado was the underdog, but the process alone was worth its weight in gold,” Bailey said.

The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation picked up the full bill for the bid, which they said cost about $250,000. For weeks, officials have noted that even if they’re not picked, Denver still wins. They have received unprecedented levels of earned media, 2,969 articles by their count, which proclaimed Denver as a great place to do business. In the last year, they have secured several high profile headquarter relocations, including the Fortune 500 VF Corporation that makes Vans and JanSport backpacks. Slack added 550 jobs too.

Amazon offered no official explanation for why it didn’t choose Denver. Bailey said they have follow up conversations with the company scheduled in the coming week. The company has a considerable presence in Colorado, with several distribution centers and offices that employ more than 2,500 people.