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How Amazon’s HQ2 finalist cities compare

We look at tech talent, office space and time to the airport.

Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos conducts a “digital ribbon cutting” during the opening ceremony of the newspaper's new location.
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 announced 20 finalists today in its process of seeking a second headquarters. The list is pretty close to the one Recode put together last September. Mostly they’re big, populous cities located on the East Coast — which might end up balancing Amazon’s main headquarters in Seattle.

All the finalists have a ready supply of tech talent. As we noted earlier, real estate leases and rentals make up just 4 percent of a tech company’s operating expenses, while payroll alone makes up about 50 percent.

That makes getting and retaining talent a huge issue for tech companies. Of course, Amazon has over 250,000 employees in the U.S., and those workers include sizable numbers of tech talent and warehouse workers.

And the cheapest city to hire labor isn’t in the U.S. at all. The cost to employ workers, both tech and non-tech, is cheaper in Toronto, Canada, than in any other cities on Amazon’s finalists list, according to real estate firm CBRE.

New York is the best of the finalists when it comes to having tech talent, according to CBRE, which ranked cities based on their competitive advantages and their appeal to tech employers and workers.

New York also has the highest commercial real estate costs, as well as the some of the highest tech wages in the country.

Montgomery County and Northern Virginia were also finalists but equivalent tech talent, rental and wage data were unavailable for them.

A number of Midwest cities also made the list, including Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis. After Toronto, these two have some of the lowest-cost wages. Denver and Austin, the Southwestern outliers, are much pricier by comparison.

Clarification: An earlier version of the table used Baltimore and Richmond as proxies for Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, since comparable data was unavailable for those two finalists. I’ve since removed those locations from the table entirely.

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