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How Amazon's HQ2 Search Has Created a Template for City Planning and Development

It’s been in the headlines for months now: Amazon’s quest for a home for their second headquarters has created major buzz, not just in the development world, but in public opinion as well. With 238 cities sending in proposals, and publications ranking the top contenders with every issue, it’s no wonder that the Amazon search has cities not only discussing their current state of development, but also plans for the future.


By announcing their criteria upfront, Amazon has not only given cities an insight into what innovative tech companies desire in a location, but a means by which to grade their existing city development and their plans for future growth. With that in mind, we take a look at Amazon’s criteria, it’s significance, and how the Dallas area excels or needs to improve in order to be a strong contender for businesses seeking to move.


Must be: A Metropolitan Area with More Than 1 Million People

As of 2015 census projections, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has grown to an estimated 7.1 million people, meaning the area easily checks this box. The exact metroplex boundaries are often debated, but most agree that this includes cities as far North as McKinney, West as Weatherford, South as Waxahachie, and East as Greenville. In reality, the metroplex is vast, with plenty of room to expand, giving an advantage over competitors.


However, DFW’s population is already growing quickly without a boost from Amazon. From July 2015 to July 2016, the metroplex added an estimated 393 people per day, and with more and more businesses relocating and expanding to the area, that number is expected to only increase in the coming years. Projections by American City Business Journals (ACBJ) put the DFW metroplex population at 10.9 million by 2040. And while Dallas has seen a major boom in multifamily development, demand continues to be high with the arrival of other large corporations like Toyota and Liberty Mutual. The addition of an estimated 50,000 jobs over the next 10 years would be a significant influx that the city will need to carefully consider as added strain on an overloaded construction market. The development is certainly feasible depending on site location, however infrastructure and labor impacts for this development must be considered if the city intends to make an Amazon transition as seamless as possible.


Must Have: An Urban and Suburban Environment

The DFW metroplex is unique in that it melds together aspects of the urban and suburban. Dallas and Ft. Worth are both major urban developments, but it’s the seamless transition from suburb to suburb that really showcases DFW’s expanse. The proximity of metroplex areas and resources, as well as available workforce, provide many location options for major companies making DFW their home. The coordination of multiple cities in the DFW proposal gives Amazon a full range of options across the area, with popular spots including the Victory Park/Downtown area and Fair Park. These could add an extra jolt to renewed life that downtown is working to improve. And the area already sees the ever increasing tech talent in the metroplex that Amazon desires. AT&T and Texas Instruments are both prominent forces, and companies like Cisco have continued to expand here. There are also a number of major universities in the area with which tech companies can partner to produce a strong tech workforce.


The added benefit of this combination of the urban and suburban is that so many resources that come with it. The project’s ideal site suggests a desire to be within 45 minutes of an international airport, 1 to 2 miles of major highways and roadways, and access to public transit. While the metroplex easily checks those first two boxes, that last one might be a bit of a mark against the area’s bid. While DART is the “longest” light rail system in the nation, it’s had its share of problems. A shockingly small 1.5% of the area’s workforce uses public transit. This is a stark contrast to Seattle, for example, where 47.3% of downtown commutes are via public transit, making up 36.8% of total commutes, and 12.4% of commutes are non-motorized ( bike or foot). Criticism of the DART’s accessibility and maintenance highlights the lack of mobility in the area as a major concern for such a large city seeing significant growth. If Amazon’s desire for public transit options is any indicator, Dallas is potentially hurting their chances with major companies down the line if it does not seek to commit itself to better options in this area. The approval of subway and streetcar routes currently in discussion would certainly help, as would the completion of the project seeking to connect Plano to DFW airport via DART. The key will be to continue to actively fund and encourage these projects to meet the needs of Amazon and similar business.


Must Have: A Business Friendly and Stable Environment

The Dallas area truly excels in this category. You’d be hard pressed to find a more business friendly state than Texas. Texas boasts no state income tax and a low cost-of-living which both help bolster DFW in the rankings. This was a major factor in the Wall Street Journal’s positioning of Dallas as Amazon’s best choice. For the past 13 years, Texas has topped the list of Chief Executive’s Best States for Business. And the region’s continued growth is proof of stability—if Dallas were in danger of a crash, there wouldn’t be so many businesses moving and building in the area.


The secondary factor here is incentives. With the incentives historically given to Toyota and other recently relocated companies, the metroplex has been known to be generous to companies moving here. The right incentive could help give the push in our favor.


Must be: Looking to the Future

Independent of whether or not Amazon moves to the DFW-area, the criteria the company has laid out is important to the future of any city looking to be competitive in attracting business and talent. While Dallas has seen heavy growth, changes in economic focus and the economy of the area could significantly make or break the city in years to come. It’s important that Dallas-Ft. Worth use Amazon’s RFP as a guideline to examine its strengths and weaknesses, and create a plan that will allow the metroplex to thrive and expand.