It’s finally over.
After more than a year of relentless media hype and desperate pleas from city officials, Amazon has finally announced the location(s) of its new HQ2 headquarters: Northern Virginia’s newly created National Landing neighborhood outside of Washington, D.C., and Long Island City in Queens, New York, situated across the East River from Manhattan.
The Tuesday morning announcement — anticlimactic, for sure, after press reports over the last week detailed the company’s intentions — will let down those who were hoping Amazon might deviate from its DNA and take on a city that could use an economic boost and job growth — say, a Newark, N.J., or a Pittsburgh, Penn. The best Amazon offered was a 5,000-person “operations center of excellence” in Nashville.
But a decision like putting a full headquarters in a place like Newark or Pittsburgh would have required a decision based, in part, on emotion. And for those who have followed Jeff Bezos’s company closely, that’s not the way Amazon has built an $800 billion business.
Amazon makes decisions big and small based on data. From that point of view, the New York City and Washington, D.C., metro areas are logical choices. That’s because when the company first revealed its request for proposal in 2017, it listed this “requirement” near the top of its must-have list: “Locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.”
I should have listened when, over the last year, people with deep ties to Amazon advised me that a metro area’s talent pool would be the most important driver of a decision — yes, even more so than financial incentives. Amazon is getting $1.5 billion in incentives in Long Island City and $573 million in Northern Virginia, which is substantial. But the tech talent mattered more.
And what do you see when you look at rankings of the top technology talent pools in the U.S.? Only two metro areas rank above the Washington, D.C., metro area: The San Francisco Bay Area, which Amazon never considered, and Seattle, the home of Amazon’s original headquarters. At No. 3, Washington, D.C., makes a lot of sense.
Fourth is Toronto — but despite its booming tech scene, Amazon never gave any hints that it would seriously consider a big move across the border. Which brings us to No. 5 on the tech talent list: New York City.
Ultimately, Amazon decided it needed two cities — whether it always knew this or not is up for debate — to meet its hiring demands and to reduce some of the potential downsides that Seattle has experienced as a result of Amazon’s 45,000-employee footprint there.
All of this leads to uncomfortable questions for Amazon: If the company already knew that tech talent was the most critical factor in choosing new homes for 50,000 future employees, why didn’t it just handpick a few of the top cities with the requisite workforce and negotiate privately among them?
If access to a large pool local tech talent was a “requirement,” did “finalists” like Nashville (No. 45 in tech talent nationwide) or Miami (No. 50) ever have a real shot?
These are the queries that lend the most credence to the opinion of Amazon HQ2 critics — like professor and author Scott Galloway — who say the HQ2 “contest” was nothing more than a giant charade to wring as much financial benefit from Amazon’s preferred choices as possible.
And that looks very, very bad. Using the HQ2 “search” as a brilliant — if out-of-touch — marketing campaign is one thing. But doing so while knowing the end result from the start would be something altogether worse.
Either way, Amazon and Jeff Bezos have shown time and time again that they don’t care much about public perception — as long it’s not consumer perception.
So the HQ2 — and HQ3 — decision was not an inspiring decision; it was a data-based decision. And that’s the most Amazon decision there is.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.