Amazon’s plans to invest $5 billion to build a second North American headquarters that would employ 50,000 people in a city to be determined has set off an intense scramble among metropolitan regions competing to land one of the great American companies of the digital age.
To be sure, each city and region has its own strengths and weaknesses. The website GeekWire crunched data using the criteria from Amazon’s request for proposal and found Philadelphia placed fourth behind Toronto, Ottawa, and Boston. But a review of Amazon’s four main criteria shows why Philadelphia is well-positioned to win this contest.
Metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people: With a population of more than 6 million, the Philadelphia metropolitan region is the seventh-largest in the country. In addition to our strength of size, no region can top the robust pipeline of talent coming from our many colleges and universities.
There are 101 colleges and universities within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia, including top institutions like Penn, Jefferson, Drexel, and Temple. The region ranks second in bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita. Not to mention, there are a number of top-tier business, informatics, and engineering programs that can provide ambitious and skilled employees to Amazon.
The Philadelphia metro region ranked ninth for tech degrees completed between 2014 and 2015, according to a recent report by CBRE. The report cited the region’s strong growth in millennials, our rich diversity, and affordability.
A stable and business-friendly environment: One of our main strengths is that we have a large and diverse economy, which prevents big economic swings compared with other regions that depend on one industry. The Philadelphia region is home to world-class Fortune 500 companies, like Comcast, Vanguard, and AmerisourceBergen, that dominate their respective industries.
Another 330 Fortune 500 companies have a presence in the Philadelphia region. More than 645 international companies from 37 countries are in the region. Even better, the cost of doing business here, including office rents, is lower than in many other major metro regions like New York, Washington, and Boston.
Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent: Philadelphia is perfectly situated between the financial and political capitals of the world, making for easy access for Amazon executives, including CEO Jeff Bezos, who has a home in Washington, D.C. We have excellent highway, public transit, and rail networks, as well as the largest freshwater port in the world. Half the U.S. population can be reached within a two-hour flight from Philadelphia International Airport.
The wonderful quality of life in the city and the suburbs — as well as the proximity to the beaches, rivers, and mountains — is perfectly suited for Amazon. Not to mention, the region has an excellent mix of affordable housing and high-quality schools for families. Of course, Philadelphia is also home to world-class cultural and scientific institutions, restaurants, sports, shopping, and entertainment.
Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options: Amazon is looking for existing buildings of at least 500,000 square feet and total site space to develop up to 8 million square feet. Its Seattle headquarters includes 33 buildings totaling 8.1 million square feet.
This may be Philadelphia’s strongest advantage. We have several spectacular options that are centrally located, yet ripe for development, including the Navy Yard, a 1,200-acre site close to the airport and highways, as well as Center City, and the area around Schuylkill Yards, 30th Street Station and uCity Square, which, together, have the capacity for more than 18 million square feet of development. The Brookings Institution recently identified these locations as natural innovation districts with clusters of research and tech talent that other regions are trying to emulate.
The challenge now is for Philadelphia to wow Amazon and show it is ready on Day One. Jeff Bezos is a brilliant visionary who aims high. Philadelphia has demonstrated that it, too, dreams big. We recently hosted the Democratic National Convention, Pope Francis, and the NFL Draft. Landing Amazon is the Super Bowl of business.
Philadelphia has what Amazon wants. This is not the time to be bashful. This is a once-in-a-century opportunity for a great city to align with a great company.
John Fry is president of Drexel University and chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.