Amazon plan echoes Boeing’s move to Chicago, but differences are crucial

Amazon’s announcement that it will build a second headquarters elsewhere to mirror its massive Seattle campus was as explosively unexpected as Boeing’s announcement in March 2001 that it would move its headquarters.

Amazon’s announcement that it will build a second headquarters elsewhere to mirror its massive Seattle campus was as explosively unexpected as Boeing’s announcement in March 2001 that it would move its headquarters.

On that morning, less than a month after an actual earthquake had shaken the city, Boeing chairman Phil Condit shook the city again. Speaking at a Washington, D.C., press conference, he delivered news that neither veteran Boeing watchers nor any other outsider had any inkling was coming.

Seattle’s mayor, Paul Schell, and Gov. Gary Locke were equally blindsided.

With Boeing’s blow to the city following closely on the Nisqually earthquake, Schell told The Seattle Times, “I’m waiting for the locusts.”

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Some parallels to Amazon’s decision are clear, but there are important differences too.

For a start, the prize for the city that wins the Amazon contest will be much, much richer: It promises a $5 billion investment, as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs, an expectation of kindling more growth, and the immediate prestige of digital technology leadership.

In his 2001 announcement Condit named Chicago, Dallas and Denver as the leading contenders and invited proposals from each city. When Chicago came out in top a few months later, only a few hundred corporate jobs moved into a skyscraper in the city. Boeing’s manufacturing sites were never part of the move.

At the time, Boeing employed 79,000 people in Washington state. By 2012, that figure had risen to 87,000.

The most significant difference in the two corporate maneuvers may be more psychological: Amazon is not “moving” its headquarters. It’s duplicating it.

That is significant because while Amazon doesn’t seem to be dissatisfied with Seattle, Boeing’s move betrayed a deep unease about the city.

There had been earlier indications of that unhappiness. Condit’s predecessor, Frank Shrontz, in a 1991 speech warned that unless the state’s business climate improved, the Puget Sound region could become “an aerospace rust belt in the 21st century, complete with padlocked factories, unemployment lines and urban blight.”

And as Condit explained in 2001 and…

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