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These U.S. cities have the best chance of being Amazon’s second headquarters

It’s going to take a lot to catch Amazon’s attention.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stands in front of an Amazon Prime image David Ryder / Getty
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Amazon plans to open a second North American headquarters in addition to its original headquarters in Seattle. The retailer promised 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the city that proves it has the best assets and incentives.

The floodgates opened.

It seems as though every mayor in every city in America has declared a bid to be Amazon’s next headquarters. Some have more promise than others.

We created a select list of cities with over a million people that have a chance of getting Amazon’s attention. We compared them on a number of criteria, including tech talent, airport travel time, office prices, housing costs and population. Take a look:

Amazon stressed that incentives like tax breaks would factor into its decision, but those are likely to be unique to each project, so we didn’t look at a city’s past incentives for this analysis.

Of the over 20 cities we looked at, Washington, D.C., is the most expensive for commercial real estate. On average, it costs $595 dollars per square foot to buy office space in its central business district, according to 2016-present sales data from commercial real estate data firm Real Capital Analytics. Columbus, Ohio, is at the other end of the spectrum, at $61 per square foot on average. Of course, all of these pale in comparison to commercial real estate in Amazon’s downtown Seattle home, which costs $604 per square foot for office space.

Areas outside the central business districts are cheaper — and could be closer to the airport, important for deliveries and corporate travel. At just eight minutes from downtown, Columbus, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have the closest airports.

But real estate is only part of the equation. For tech firms, real estate leases and rentals make up just 4 percent of a business’s operating expenses, while payroll alone makes up about 50 percent according to the Census Bureau’s Business Expenses Survey.

The biggest — and priciest — issue is getting and retaining workers.

That might be easiest in Washington, D.C, Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin and Boston, which were the top places in the U.S. — besides the Bay Area, Seattle and New York City, which we didn’t include for obvious reasons — for tech talent, according to real estate research firm CBRE’s 2017 Scoring Tech Talent report.

The report factors in 13 different metrics to gauge a market’s ability to attract and grow tech talent. The result is a rank of 50 North American cities based on which are best for tech employers and workers.

While the city itself will certainly provide workers, Amazon is always looking to recruit from elsewhere. Getting new talent to come to a city requires a mix of good amenities and affordable housing, according to Svenja Gudell, chief economist at real estate data firm Zillow.

Her short list for Amazon’s second headquarters is topped by Austin, Denver and Chicago because they have all the amenities of a big city, but they aren’t geographically constrained and have much cheaper housing than Seattle.

Of course, Amazon might not choose to put its headquarters in the U.S. at all.

According to Gudell, “Given our current immigration policy, especially on the tech side, it might be smart to consider Canada.”

Here’s the same information in the map as a sortable table:

Comparison of potential cities for Amazon’s HQ2

City Tech talent rank # Airport travel time (mins.) Office price per sq. ft. Median home value Median rent Population estimate
City Tech talent rank # Airport travel time (mins.) Office price per sq. ft. Median home value Median rent Population estimate
Austin, Texas 8 18 486 $323,900 $1,786 2,056,405
Baltimore, Maryland 11 17 202 $122,800 $1,286 2,798,886
Boston, Massachusetts 9 11 550 $560,300 $2,555 4,794,447
Charlotte, North Carolina 26 16 177 $187,100 $1,321 2,474,314
Chicago, Illinois 15 36 255 $223,400 $1,653 9,512,999
Columbus, Ohio 28 8 61 $129,900 $1,135 2,041,520
Dallas, Texas 10 24 271 $167,200 $1,421 7,233,323
Denver, Colorado 12 32 284 $385,600 $1,997 2,853,077
Kansas City, Missouri 29 21 152 $122,900 $1,039 2,104,509
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 40 14 100 $108,200 $997 1,572,482
Nashville, Tennessee 43 14 217 $233,000 $1,550 1,865,298
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 22 20 207 $138,900 $1,208 6,070,500
Phoenix, Arizona 17 8 $215,800 $1,276 4,661,537
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 30 30 140 $124,100 $1,122 2,342,299
Sacramento, California 36 12 216 $305,200 $1,562 2,296,418
Salt Lake City, Utah 23 8 187 $285,200 $1,479 1,186,187
St. Louis, Missouri 35 17 168 $121,300 $891 2,807,002
Tulsa, Oklahoma 50 12 421 $108,400 $959 1,157,465
Washington, DC 4 19 595 $382,900 $2,130 6,131,977
Minneapolis, Minnesota 18 25 158 $246,900 $1,601 3,551,036
Atlanta, Georgia 5 22 239 $229,400 $1,430 5,789,700
Raleigh, North Carolina 6 21 290 $180,400 $1,355 1,302,946
Sources: Zillow (median home value and rent), Real Capital Analytics (commercial real estate sales price), CBRE tech ranking, Google Maps (airport travel time), Census (population)

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