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From Site Selection magazine, November 2017

Know When to Hold ’Em

Mark Arend

You read it here first: Another North America headquarters for a global company is coming to Atlanta, and I’m not referring to Amazon’s HQ2, which could happen. More on that in a minute. I had hoped to break this news in this issue, specifically in the cover story about Georgia winning our annual Top Business Climate ranking for the fifth consecutive year. I had even phone interviewed the executive already in the US preparing for the Atlanta launch in early 2018. His dog was barking in the background. Too soon, said the higher-ups. Hold off for now.

Worry not. The announcement will come in the New Year, and Site Selection will cover it as we do every major corporate project — with corporate insights no other economic development publication delivers.

The Atlanta project epitomizes Georgia’s success as a location for such investment. This multinational will initially occupy space near Tech Square — the corporate R&D hub so many companies are flocking to for proximity to the brainpower at Georgia Tech. That location, as so many other cities with similar innovation hubs can attest, is a business climate asset whose value will only increase with time.

Another asset central to Georgia’s continuing success, and to the incoming company’s selection of Atlanta for the headquarters, is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It really is that important. During my interview with Governor Nathan Deal in early October for the Top Business Climates cover story, I asked if Georgia could achieve this recognition — at all, let alone five years running — without that airport. His short answer: “No.” 

Back to Amazon. Atlanta’s a strong contender for that project, too, but that’s not the point here. You will want to read the Amazon feature in this issue by my colleagues Ron Starner and Adam Jones-Kelley, because it’s about the most insightful treatment of this very public process in the business press today.

Back in 1990 or 1991 — I forget the exact year — I interviewed Jeff Bezos, who was working at the time at a custodian bank in New York, where he and a colleague had developed a desktop workstation for the bank’s institutional clients. It was pretty advanced for its time — this was pre-email. Fast forward, and he’d reshape the very institution of retail, and by extension commercial real estate, to the extent brick-and-mortar leases are affected. And they are. 

Today, he’s reshaping site selection, if getting 238 North American metros to jump, while asking, “How high?” is any indication. It’s amazing how quickly states suddenly found billions of dollars with which to fashion HQ2 proposals. As of this writing, Amazon has a market capitalization of $531 billion, several times the national GDP of several countries I’ve visited.

Maybe incentives really are central to the site decision. Maybe it’s just for show. In the end, I don’t view incentives as “corporate welfare,” but something about this process lends credence to those who do. Some cards are best held close to the vest.

Till next time,

Mark Arend, Editor in Chief

Mark Arend
Editor Emeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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