My first career out of college was in urban planning, and I remain intensely interested in the development of cities and regions. Corporate headquarters–especially those with numerous employees and high salaries–impact cities and regions by providing sizable tax bases for local governments (unless governments offer tax incentives), relatively secure employment bases, increases in property values, and infrastructure investments. Depending on the person evaluating them, these effects can be perceived as good or bad.
For the past 10 years, the most visible example of HQ impacts on a U.S. city has probably been San Francisco, where the HQs of technology companies have transformed neighborhoods and the city generally. Oakland is about to receive a new large office of tech company (taxi company?) Uber.
Seattle is emerging as a similar story. Longtime home to large firms like Microsoft and Boeing, Seattle has become a tech hub on par with San Francisco. However, Amazon gets the brunt of blame and credit for current changes.
Amazon.com’s HQ is doubling its workforce and building several new office towers. When I visited Seattle in August, I overheard many conversations about Amazon’s impact on the city, including a quickly rising cost of living in neighborhoods that have become popular for Amazon’s workforce, many of whom earn more than $100,000 per year.
Seattle government is attempting to control this growth while still benefiting from increased wealth. Whether it can harness the economic power of corporate expansion to overall benefits for the city and its pre-expansion residents remains to be seen.