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From Site Selection magazine, March 2018

Amazon for Atlanta?


The Georgia capital’s candidacy for HQ2 is just one of many windows onto a vibrant state economy.

“Achilles Heel”: Atlanta rates as the country’s fourth-most congested city in a recent study by INRIX.
“Achilles Heel”: Atlanta rates as the country’s fourth-most congested city in a recent study by INRIX.

When Amazon announced finalists for its second headquarters location, some Atlantans were thrilled to see their city at the top of the list. Alas, the list was alphabetical. But that doesn’t mean Atlanta’s not a top pick.

To gauge how Atlanta stacks up among other HQ2 contenders, Site Selection reached out to some of the city’s top business and civic leaders, as well as corporate real estate analysts. Here’s a sampling of what they told us.

KP Reddy, Serial Entrepreneur, Founder of Shadow Ventures:
As far as Amazon goes, the airport is a huge asset for Atlanta. If you move down here from, say, Chicago to work for Amazon, knowing that you can get back home makes life easy. It’s a major asset. I go to New York all the time for the day, and I don’t have to connect anywhere or do any of that. I hit the 6 a.m. flight to La Guardia and I’m back by dinner. Flight availability is very important.


With Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory, Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta, there’s a great talent base for Amazon to pick from. I went to Georgia Tech, and one of the things they’ve struggled with is retention in Atlanta. All the top performers end up jumping on a plane and working for Amazon and Google, so this becomes a great way for them to retain that talent here. 

I think Atlanta’s a good fit. We have great cultural diversity and a great LGBT community. Those things matter in terms of recruiting. I think we have work to do from a perception perspective. People hear “Atlanta” and they think “Georgia,” and it’s not the same thing. I’ve had friends of mine move down here from DC and New York of all races and genders and sexual orientations, and they are quick to find a great community for themselves in Atlanta. It’s perception versus reality.


Stan Sonenshine, Managing Partner, Preferred Real Estate Funds:
Atlanta is a very dynamic city. It’s got a lot going for it. It’s the capital of the South and the engine that drives the region. It’s got great universities and a young, well-educated population. The airport is a huge advantage, and not only do we have Hartsfield, but Peachtree DeKalb as a secondary airport is a terrific asset. It would enable Amazon executives to fly in and out of here pretty easily. 

I think Atlanta is a fair fit for Amazon, but not a great fit. All the cities that are still in the hunt have their strengths and weaknesses, but Atlanta’s got a huge Achilles heel: traffic. The traffic is horrendous, and the roads infrastructure is woefully inadequate. I scratch my head as to how we fix that. Amazon’s going to plop a city within a city in one place, and all those workers either have to live there or get there. I don’t think Atlanta was built for that. You’re talking about putting a huge development in there, and then you’re just going to have to try to catch up. I don’t know how you do that. 


Joe Pella, Senior Vice President, SunTrust Commercial Real Estate:
Atlanta has a lot of what Amazon is looking for. Just from a land standpoint the region has a number of different locations Amazon could choose. You can get to 80 percent of the US population within a two-hour flight from Atlanta, and you can also get to destinations internationally. Atlanta is a massive beneficiary of the Port of Savannah. It has rail and Interstate connectivity and local rapid transit that stacks up well against other peer cities. It has pretty good housing affordability and ranks among the top 10 metro areas in terms of cost of doing business. When you put it all together, Atlanta checks off a number of the items Amazon wants.

I don’t necessarily see a serious flaw for Atlanta. It has become a tech city. Look at NCR moving their headquarters into Midtown. Look at Anthem building a new technology hub next to Georgia Tech. It’s a very diverse city from both a business standpoint and a cultural standpoint. The business environment in Atlanta and the way the city and the state work together is a massive positive. It’s a partnership that also includes business leaders in a number of different efforts to recruit and retain companies and talent. That coordination and that team approach is important. 


Chris Clark, President and CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce:
With Atlanta, it comes down to talent. We have 32 colleges and universities in the 13-county Atlanta region. Over the next 12 years you’re going to have 1.5 million more Georgians than you have today, a lot of them moving from all over the world, which adds to the talent pool. Also, over the next 12 years, Atlanta will grow its millennial workforce by 25 percent, more than pretty much any other city in the Southeast. Add in all the different avenues to feed and develop that talent pipeline and Atlanta makes a very compelling argument for Amazon.

There’s no way Atlanta’s East Coast competitors can compete with us for cost of living. We have some of the lowest housing rates in the country. If you look at the arts scene and the redevelopment projects like the Beltline that are going on around Atlanta, the cultural scene is really coming alive. And it’s really transitioning from a baby boomer culture to being a millennial culture. It’s really an exciting time to be here.

In Georgia, whether it’s Democrats in charge or Republicans in charge, we have a history of working across the aisle to do what’s right to create jobs and grow the state of Georgia. We’ve had a long, vibrant history of working together and being pro-business and pro-jobs. Progressive Democrats and Governor Deal alike are focused on business growth, what’s good for talent development and what’s best for the state. Georgia is a state that’s warm with hospitality and welcoming to multinational companies and talented men and women from all over the world.


Former Mayor Sam Massell, President, Buckhead Coalition:
Amazon could actually fit in Buckhead. In Buckhead alone, we’ve got 17,000 multi-family rental units under development in various stages. That makes housing available to a labor market. We have I-75/I-85 a mile away and Georgia 400 right through the center. We have three MARTA [Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] stations in Buckhead. We’ve got everything they’ve asked about. We’ve got 300 places to eat and drink. That in itself makes for a happy environment. 

The airport is Atlanta’s top asset. You’ve got access to the world at your right hand. What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that the legislature made it so that you can’t take any money out of that airport. It flows with funds, but the money has to stay there so that we have the ability to make improvements as necessary. If the airport needs new parking decks, it can add them. If it needs new runways, it can add them. Anything that airport wants and needs it can do tomorrow. 

Atlanta is a great fit for Amazon. Atlanta is a can-do city. We did the Olympics when no one thought it possible. We put in mass transit when no one thought it possible. We’ve hosted the Democratic National Convention when no one thought that was possible. Atlanta has the leadership, the willingness, and the ambition for Amazon. Yes, Atlanta can handle it, and Atlanta will.

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