Grand Rapids considered for Amazon Headquarters location

By Megan Webster | 10/25/17 8:55pm

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GVL / Courtesy - geekwire.com Part of Amazon’s planned expansion in the Seattle area includes biodome structures.

Whether they're buying books, clothing or kitchen utensils online, almost everyone is familiar with the online shopping superpower Amazon.com. As of right now, there is only one Amazon headquarters, which is located in Seattle. 

However, that is scheduled to change as the online shopping giant is currently in the process of evaluating different locations for a second home, and Grand Rapids is a potential contender. 

Amazon announced this groundbreaking news in early September. The final bids from cities were due Thursday, Oct. 19, which means that the Grand Rapids team had somewhere between three and four weeks to compose a document stating why West Michigan is a prime candidate for this lofty project.

This team was composed of approximately 12 different individuals from organizations all across Grand Rapids, including, but not limited to, The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). 

The final proposal submitted totaled 108 pages and contained different kinds of information that Amazon required. This information included workforce numbers, demographic information, quality of life information, a general overview of Grand Rapids and possible locations for Amazon’s building.

Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place, explained that if Amazon were to decide on Grand Rapids for its second headquarters location, the current image and definition of West Michigan would be flipped entirely. 

“The best way to describe if Amazon were to decide to locate 'HQ2' in West Michigan, it would be to redefine the term 'game changer,'” Mroz said. “Depending on where they were to locate in the area, you could see a dramatic increase in the development of new areas of our community. You would see a huge investment in development of our downtown area.” 

There are at least 140 cities that submitted bids to Amazon. But according to Mroz, West Michigan offers a few different things the other cities don’t: the ability to collaborate with other organizations and companies to meet a common goal, the ability to get from one side of the city to the other without major transit issues, and the overall quality of life that the residents of West Michigan experience. 

“Everybody has a quality of life in their community,” he said. “The advantage that West Michigan has is the wide variety that if offers. You have a very family-friendly community, but you have opportunities outdoors-wise. You have some of the best lake-front beaches in the country; you’ve got a bikeable community; you’ve got great places to hike and fish. The list goes on and on and on. 

“There’s something here for everyone. You don’t have that in other cities depending on where you go.”

It’s not only what Grand Rapids offers that might make the city a strong contender for the headquarters, but Grand Valley State University may also have a role to play in Amazon’s decision. Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said GVSU’s proximity to Grand Rapids is an added bonus for the bid.

“Amazon has explicitly said that access to a highly educated labor pool and a strong university system rank among the key factors informing their location decision,” Guy said. “So demonstrating that West Michigan offers a robust educational system of colleges and universities—with GVSU the largest institution in the regional system of higher education—is critical to Grand Rapids and West Michigan’s ability to compete for the opportunity Amazon presents.”

Even though a West Michigan location for HQ2 might provide numerous benefits for the city and for the residents that live here, there will undoubtedly be some challenges if the Grand Rapids bid is accepted. 

“What does that do to traffic patterns and commute?” Mroz said. “What does that do to our housing market? What does that do to available housing? There are a lot of challenges that comes with those opportunities.”

Amazon’s plan for its second headquarters includes hiring 50,000 workers over the span of 10 years. Mroz said there has been some questioning about whether or not West Michigan can uphold these major plans. Nevertheless, he suggested that no matter which city Amazon builds in, no city is going to have 50,000 workers on day one, thereby causing a challenge for every community that has submitted a bid. 

“There isn’t a city or community in the entire United States that has 50,000 available workers," he said. "So no matter where Amazon chooses to locate, whether it’s New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Miami or Grand Rapids, that size of a project will have a dramatic impact on a workforce supply chain. Yes, it is a challenge for Grand Rapids to meet those numbers, but I would argue that it’s going to be a challenge for any community in the United States to meet those numbers.” 

In terms of when the bid will be announced, Amazon is being rather secretive. Mroz said with the large scope of this project, it’s not a surprise that Amazon is keeping its analysis process "on the down low." All that is known at this point is that the “winner” will be announced sometime in 2018. 

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