When mighty Amazon announced last year it was seeking a home for a planned second headquarters, cities all over the country raised their hands and yelled, “Pick me, pick me!”
Though the company has not made any official announcements as to where it will land, a report filed Monday by the New York Times strongly suggests that the Seattle-based online retailer has narrowed its search to perhaps two locations: Queens, New York, and the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And if those rumors are true, tech entrepreneurs in Arlington are ready to welcome the company, though they admit there may be some pain points.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little anxious about the whole thing,” says John O’Brien, founder and CEO of 540.co, a five-year-old technology consulting firm that works with federal organizations like the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. O’Brien says it may be a challenge for his company of 30 people—situated in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, an urban office-and-residential sprawl where Amazon is rumored to be planning to set up shop—to compete for talent with one of the most valuable brands in the world and its deep pockets.
“But at the same time,” adds O’Brien, “it’s a positive thing in the grand scheme of things. There’s no doubt it’s going to attract more technology talent to the area. So while I see there could be shortages in the beginning, more people will be here, and there will be more focus on tech. Not that there isn’t already, but more is always better.”
Putting down roots in Arlington makes sense for Amazon, says Scott Love, founder of Lovelytics, a small data analytics firm he founded last year. Both Nestlé and Gerber have moved to the city within the past year. Another well-respected firm moving in will only make Arlington that much more compelling to other such firms, he explained.
Amazon’s arrival, says Love, would be nothing but positive for the city’s population of tech-savvy workers, because the area will become more attractive to them. Living costs, on the other hand, could get ugly. “I don’t know how much higher it can go in the D.C. area, but I’m sure there will be an uptick,” Love said. “But a lot of these upticks have already happened.”
Along with an influx of talent, Amazon’s arrival could bring a surge in Arlington’s tech credibility, which could inspire venture capital and angel investors to take the area’s startup entrepreneurs more seriously. That’s the hope of Rita Ting-Hopper, founder and CEO of Festi, an app slated for launch this month that helps groups organize and pay for get-togethers and parties. Washington, D.C., she says, is not Silicon Valley and growth capital is not as abundant. “It’s very difficult being a female, minority founder to get VC funding,” she says. “In 2017, 2% of funding went to female founders, so that’s already a struggle. And being on the East Coast is also not advantageous.”
Some of the potential downsides of Amazon’s possible arrival would be logistical. “Transportation and school capacity is a concern for locals,” says Ting-Hopper. “And housing is really expensive here.”
Dominick Fuccillo, a Washington, D.C., native, started his first company, Trustpages, while earning his M.B.A. at Georgetown in 2011. Now vice president of finance and corporate development at Distil Networks, a cybersecurity firm in Arlington that’s raised $59 million in growth capital to date, he says the region has been building tech credibility in recent years, pointing to the successes of locally based companies like CVENT, Social Tables, Mapbox and Afiniti.
“Now it’s at an inflection point where people are saying, ‘Hey, I can do tech—not only federal technology but consumer-facing or commercial technology—in D.C. for the long term for my career, and I can look at this as a place where I can be successful in the long term,’” Fuccillo told Forbes. “And having a huge technology company and worldwide leader like Amazon come into the area gives even more confidence that D.C. is a great place for a technology hub.”