How one little known county is taking on the big cities on Amazon's HQ2 shortlist

You may not know Montgomery County, Maryland, but Amazon does. However, the region isn't planning to win over the technology giant with publicity stunts.

Rockville, MD (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Wikipedian1234 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10421700)
Rockville, MD (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Wikipedian1234 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10421700)

SEATTLE: Amazon triggered a collective head scratch on Thursday when it unveiled its shortlist of 20 finalists for its second headquarters that included one unexpected name: Montgomery County, Maryland.

Summing up the thoughts of many, The Baltimore Sun published an article with the headline, "What is Montgomery County?"

"People around the country, they may not know what Montgomery County is, which is quite natural, because we’re a county and not a major city," said Ike Leggett, Montgomery’s county executive, "but Amazon knows, and that’s who we’re trying to convince."

After Amazon said it would take proposals for establishing a second headquarters last September, nearly 240 applicants began to court the technology giant, some by proposing sweet incentive packages and others with splashy publicity stunts. For instance, a Calgary economic development group promised to fight a bear, and Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser featured Alexa as a prop in a Facebook video.

However, Montgomery County officials aren’t planning to win over Amazon with stunts, said Leggett, who added that he hasn’t received a timeframe from Amazon yet. Amazon is expected to house 50,000 employees at its second headquarters, while sinking $5 billion into the space.

"This is not a beauty contest," he explained. "We haven’t gone through a lot of the hoopla about what we’re doing and why. We’re making a case to the executives of Amazon, not the general population."

An Amazon representative wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Montgomery County, best known as a suburb of Washington, DC, has a population of about 1.1 million, Leggett said. Median household income is more than $100,000, more than 90% of its population has a high school degree, and 58% has at least a bachelor’s degree, according to U.S. Census data for 2016. Its biggest city is Rockville, with a population of nearly 67,000.

The county is also home to Lockheed Martin Information Systems, a John Hopkins University campus, the National Institutes of Health, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and federal government agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Leggett highlighted Montgomery’s "stable workforce, educational advantages, close proximity to the D.C. metropolitan area, and [rural and urban] amenities."

"When you look at our proposal and rank it against others, we can make a very compelling case for why Amazon should locate in Montgomery," he added.

Leggett said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and his team were Montgomery’s foremost partners in its bid. Another entity leading the charge for the greater capital area is the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. However, the council is also representing two other areas on the shortlist: DC and Northern Virginia.

APCO Worldwide supported the association during the application process by creating a report arguing the region was stronger than an "amalgamation of its parts."

This means Montgomery County is competing against both D.C. and Virginia, even though they’re sort of on the same team.

"It’s a dance we have to play very carefully," Leggett said. "My role, and what I’ve instructed my people to do, is talk about the unique advantages we bring to the table and let the chips fall where they may."

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