The plan to develop a robust pipeline of tech talent—and to retain that talent—was one of the deciding factors driving Amazon’s choice of Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, for its second headquarters, officials deeply involved in the decision told attendees of ULI’s 2019 Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C.
In the opening keynote session, Holly Sullivan, director of worldwide economic development for Amazon; Timothy D. Sands, president of Virginia Tech University; and Matt Kelly, chief executive officer of developer and property manager JBG Smith, discussed the behind-the-scenes decision-making that led to Amazon’s choice of this neighborhood, now called National Landing. They were questioned by Jason Miller, chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Partnership, a coalition of civic-minded business leaders. They cited the availability of ready-to-occupy office space, proximity to Reagan National Airport, agreement among several jurisdictions to increase funding for the area’s transit system, and an unusually cooperative relationship among local governments and businesses as important drivers of Amazon’s choice. But the ability to develop a robust stream of educated talent in technology fields set the area apart.
“We need talent on Day One, but we also need the robust partnerships of creating a talent pipeline,” said Sullivan, who led Amazon’s HQ2 search.
Sands noted that $1 billion will be spent to expand the tech talent pipeline by creating a Virginia Tech Innovation Campus on 65 acres (26 ha) in Alexandria, Virginia, about two miles (3 km) from the new Amazon headquarters. He noted that the opportunity presented by Amazon meshed with a goal already held by Virginia Tech—to ramp up the university’s capacity to stay apace of the growing needs of the tech economy. “We pulled the plan out of the drawer; we already had it,” he said. Amazon’s request for proposals for a new headquarters was the catalyst bringing the idea from plan to action.
Sullivan said one thing her team evaluated in each of the locations competing for HQ2 was the attraction the area had for tech talent. But they also evaluated what was prompting talent to leave the Washington, D.C., area. If Amazon could harness more of that talent, and diversify the types of tech opportunities available within the market, it could create a new talent pool to benefit the entire region.
Sands said too many of the technology majors graduated by his university would move out of Virginia, especially to Silicon Valley where they perceived greater opportunity. He says the university’s goal is to double the number of computer science and other tech majors and to focus on the intersection between technology and the human experience. “I’m really looking forward to keeping more Hokies in the neighborhood, and I think this is going to do it,” Sands said.