The Amazon Factor

As a rule, corporate office site selection doesn’t exactly capture the public imagination, yet few real estate stories have made a splash like Amazon’s pending choice of location for its second North American headquarters.

Executive Editor Paul Rosta
Executive Editor Paul Rosta

As a rule, corporate office site selection doesn’t exactly capture the public imagination, yet few real estate stories have made a splash like Amazon’s pending choice of location for its second North American headquarters. Millions of people who ordinarily wouldn’t know the difference between a square foot and a square dance could probably tell you that Amazon got upwards of 200 proposals from across the U.S. and Canada.

It’s exciting to see the national interest in Amazon’s site selection, and I’m particularly intrigued that my adoptive hometown of Newark, N.J., threw its hat into the ring. (Of course, I wouldn’t dream of using this bully pulpit to influence Amazon. After all, it might be bad form to point out that my hometown offers an international airport, a regional rail hub, a couple of universities, a diversified development pipeline valued at several hundred million dollars and a National Hockey League team, plus a generous helping of Brazilian, Portuguese and Spanish restaurants. So as I say, I won’t go there.)

Amazon’s quest will stay in the headlines for months, but there’s a lot more to the story. These are boom times for corporate headquarters and regional offices. As you’d expect, many of the companies commissioning these new facilities have made their fortunes through technology. Take Apple Park, the $5 billion campus that Apple opened in Cupertino, Calif., a few months ago. The main building quickly earned the nickname “The Spaceship” for a ring-shaped design that could have flown in from “Star Wars.”

As Diana Mosher’s report makes clear, however, the new breed of headquarters aims to do much more than celebrate the company’s financial prowess. Finding and keeping creative, tech-savvy talent is the name of the game. That’s why Toyota installed a two-story rock-climbing wall at its new North American hub in Plano, Texas. The design for Zurich’s new North American headquarters, which opened last year in Schaumburg, Ill., incorporates employees’ ideas about fostering collaboration. And Salesforce Tower, under construction in San Francisco, will feature a custom-designed air intake system that will bring fresh air to its occupants.

These new facilities are emerging at a time of innovative ideas about corporate space. Flexibility and openness are prized in workplace configuration, yet the value of the privacy and solitude conferred by the traditional office remain undiminished. It will be fascinating to see how Amazon addresses these challenges. Meanwhile, if anybody wants to know where you can find a first-rate Brazilian restaurant, I’m in the book.

Originally appearing in the November 2017 issue of CPE.