Amazon HQ Speculation in Full Boil

Northern Virginia is solidifying its position as the perceived front runner in the competition for Amazon’s massive HQ2 project, and Arlington’s Crystal City area looks like the front runner in Northern Virginia. The Washington Post reports that Amazon’s talks with the Seattle-based tech giant have been more detailed than discussions with other leading prospects.

“Crystal City, with easy transit access, proximity to Reagan National Airport, and ready-to-occupy office buildings, has been considered a strong contender,” writes the Post. Speculation has gotten so intense, according to stock analysts, that investors have added four or five points to the stock price of JBG Smith, owner of most Crystal City property.

I have to say, this is getting exciting. Amazon HQ2, which would entail investing $5 billion over the next 15 years and creating 50,000 jobs, would be a game changer for Northern Virginia. Not only would Amazon’s presence diversify NoVa’s economy away from the federal government, it would transform the region’s corporate culture from Beltway Bandit procurement to a more global, entrepreneurial approach. No region will supplant Silicon Valley as a technology hub, but the Washington region could become America’s undisputed No. 2.

If Amazon is looking at NoVa, thenwe should expect to hear something soon. The deal likely will be contingent upon tax breaks, higher-ed funding, and infrastructure commitments that require approval of the General Assembly. The legislature convenes Jan. 9. The Northam administration surely will have its legislative package lined up on Day One to provide ample time for public airing and debate.

Update: Amazon has decided to split HQ2 between two cities, the Wall Street Journal reports. Creating HQ2 and HQ3, with about 25,000 employees each, will ease the challenge of recruiting workforce, a source told the Journal. Moreover, the move will also ease potential issues with housing, transit and other areas where adding tens of thousands of workers could cause problems.

That’s all positive for Virginia, as far as I’m concerned. It doubles the odds of getting one of the two prizes, and the project will be easier to absorb from a growth-management perspective. I ave long feared that a 50,000-person facility would be indigestible, even for a metro region as big as Washington.

The big question now: Does Amazon get the same incentive package for a half-sized project as it would for the whole enchilada? Bezos better not get greedy. He’s already the world’s richest man. He could inspire quite a backlash if he demands too much.