If I were Jeff Bezos…

Amazon HQ2 and the case for Metropolitan Washington
Mircea Enache, Ph.D., Sep 10, 2017


If I were Jeff Bezos, this would be my message to Metropolitan Washington:

I like you, Washington. I like you very much.

I like your nature and unique historic perfume, L’Enfant’s street grid and broad boulevards, I like your pomp, your own brand of royalty, and your cosmopolitan nature, with world institutions, embassies, and international tourism.

I like the news – true and fake, I like the gossip – I purchased the Washington Post.

I like Washington’s pool of talented and creative population, its high quality educational resources and institutions, and its highly specialized, advanced business base.

I would like to establish the second Amazon Headquarters (HQ2) in Metropolitan Washington. Washington and Amazon could conquer the world together – with a global vision, with creativity and innovation, with guts and aggressive competitiveness. Washington has all the necessary prerequisites to scale up to a global city.

All this, ON ONE CONDITION – on the condition that you get your act together and ACT AS ONE REGION.

Seattle gave Amazon and our partnership all they had, and continue to do so. But we need to expand, and expand dramatically, in the next years and decade. And we need a very solid partner. We need a partner to come up with a vision, a commitment, and an action plan for the region, to match Amazon’s ambitions of world prominence and leadership. There are no limits to American creativity, ingenuity, and … pragmatism.

Don’t forget that Amazon accepts only one (1) bid per metropolitan area, with multiple real estate sites, in more than one jurisdiction. We need the entire region as a partner.

We need great regional connectivity, with free and fast movement of people between all jurisdictions, because we need a workforce of 50,000 in the next 5-10 years, and, if you can keep this confidential, most likely over 100,000 in the near future. They must be able to move easily and efficiently between the jurisdictions of the two states, MD and VA, and the District of Columbia, and to link smoothly the more developed regional west with the less developed east. In a tightly connected region, with a great transit system, any location in any jurisdiction, would benefit all jurisdictions in the region.

I trust you can find technical and political solutions to move people across the Potomac over an improved American Legion Bridge, and expand the Purple Line to reach the Dulles International Airport. I hope you can find a way to increase the number of Potomac crossings in a low environmental impact formula, with creative and smart, beautifully landscaped highways, with co-existing automobile, transit and non-motorized modes. They should be ready for the latest technology, such as app-based hailing, real time information, first mile-last mile service, and a clear policy for accommodating the autonomous vehicle – cars and buses – which are all coming, and soon! Let’s stop designing highways like we used to do in the 1950s and 1960s, when the automobile was the one and only king!

Amazon needs a large pool of talent to hire from, and we can work with you, Washington, to dig out “hidden regional resources” in land, real estate, but most importantly in human resources and social capital. We at Amazon, truly believe that every single human being has great potential resources, and that each millennial lost to the region because of the high cost of living, and lack of appropriate and affordable housing, is a significant loss. I hope you have plans for mixed-use, higher density, transit-oriented communities, retrofitted suburbs and neighbourhoods, and a growth pattern that keeps the metro cars and buses filled most of the day, in both directions.

I believe that Metropolitan Washington can pull its act together to become a smart region, with closely coordinated smart growth and smart transportation, with smart highways, smart bridges, and smart communities – because the smart people are already there! I don’t mean smart as the opposite of dumb or stupid, I mean smart in terms of new – 21st century – thinking, in terms of future-oriented and visionary planning, in terms of technology-ready flexible planning. I see a smart Washington Region defined by “we, the region” for – and with – “we, the people”. And Amazon could be a huge engine working in partnership with you, Washington.

What I expect from Metropolitan Washington in order to locate HQ2 in the region is a fair and mutually beneficial deal, with location proposals, actual sites and buildings, capital and operating costs, taxes, and a package of incentives. But, very importantly, I expect Washington to act as ONE REGION. It is obvious that “carving” an autonomous metropolitan region out of two states, with the federal government and the D.C. on top is not, and will likely never be, a politically acceptable solution. But having a powerful regional authority to coordinate regional transportation planning with “regional land use” (smart growth) should be perfectly feasible. With the Tennessee Valley Authority as a historic, successful model, and with the perfectly operational New York – New Jersey Port Authority, the examples to look at, are excellent, and more than a few.

Just as the Washington Metrorail is financed by a Maryland, Virginia, D.C. / federal government compact, a regional authority could receive funding from an expanded compact, supplemented by local taxes, fees and tolls. There is no reason to doubt that an agreement can be reached if jurisdictional negotiations are based on two basic principles: “the user pays”, and, fairness and equity.

I see no reason why the thorny problem of financing the Metrorail cannot be gradually resolved, by following the model of Tokyo transit for example, where public-private transit companies receive no subsidies from the government, use real estate investments to finance their operations / capital expenditures, and are even profitable.

Looking forward to hearing from you, Washington!

And if you want, get ready for the next Olympics, World Cup, and 2025 World Exhibition in Washington. We could, and should, be your partners.

Yours faithfully,
Jeff Bezos and Amazon