Pacific FireBrands
Pacific FireBrands

Catalyst for growth

How Amazon’s urban campus revitalized a Seattle neighborhood, and created nearly 100,000 new jobs.

Most of South Lake Union’s land was bought decades ago by the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Today, his vision of creating a biotech and technology hub in the once-hardscrabble area is now being realized. Scores of bright yellow cranes dot the skyline. Earthmovers and trucks dig foundations for modern buildings.

“South Lake Union, where Amazon lives, is arguably the most significant urban revitalization effort in America today,” said Mike McQuaid, the board president of the South Lake Union Community Council. “It’s not just that Amazon has revitalized a portion of Seattle. But it’s the way the company has revitalized our city that’s so important.”

The company’s impact on South Lake Union, has been transformative.

Amazon’s investments in Seattle

Direct* Number of buildings 44
Square feet 8.1 Million
Local retail within Amazon headquarters 24 restaurants/cafes + 8 other services
Amazon employees 45,000+
Capital investment $3.7 billion
Operational expenditures $1.4 billion
Compensation to employees $25.7 billion
Number of annual hotel nights by visiting Amazonians and guests 329,010 (2017)
Amount paid into the city’s public transportation system as employees’ transportation benefit $43 million
Indirect** Additional jobs created in the city as a result of Amazon’s direct investments 53,000
Additional investments in the local economy as a result of Amazon’s direct investments $38 billion
Increase in personal income by non-Amazon employees as a result of Amazon’s direct investments $17 billion
Other Increase in Fortune 500 companies with engineering/R&D centers in Seattle From 7 in 2010 to 31 in 2017
*From 2010 (when Amazon moved its headquarters to downtown Seattle) to June 2017.
**From 2010-2016. Calculated using Input-Output methodology and multipliers developed by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Amazon has paid more than $25 billion in wages to its local workforce, even as it’s invested $4 billion into its Seattle campus. Across the neighborhood, Amazon has teams in 44 buildings, and is in the process of constructing three more skyscrapers. The company has built bike lanes across and tens of public spaces in the neighborhood and even a system that utilizes recycled heat from a nearby data center to heat millions of square feet of office space. More than half of the company’s 45,000 Seattle-based employees arrive at work every day using public transport, 17 percent both live and work in the same zip code. The company funded an additional streetcar and its operating costs to increase the frequency for all residents in the neighborhood.

From the beginning, Amazon has expanded its local footprint while working with neighborhood groups to make improvements that resonate across the community.

“Amazon’s decision to consolidate and grow in the city itself, and not wall itself off or separate itself from the urban core, has been a huge benefit in many ways, and certainly in terms of tax revenue for the city and state,” said Jon Scholes, the president of the Downtown Seattle Association. “Amazon’s decision to grow up and not out; to protect the environment; to take advantage of the infrastructure that’s been developing downtown, whether its transit or sidewalks. Those decisions have been very beneficial for the city and region.”

One way to measure the company’s economic impact has been through the local jobs it’s helped catalyze.

Overall, the company’s investments have created 53,000 indirect jobs in Seattle in several industries, from food, healthcare, and professional services, to construction and real estate. Amazon estimates that its investments in Seattle since 2010 resulted in an additional $38 billion being added to the city’s economy, with every Amazon investment dollar generating an additional 1.4 dollars for the city’s overall economy.

Importantly, unlike other tech companies, Amazon doesn’t offer free catered food to employees. In fact, Amazon’s cafeterias were purposely designed to only feed one third of Amazon’s Seattle employees. Instead, each Amazon office building leases space to a few local restaurants, and Amazon has purposefully eschewed offering space to national chains, choosing instead to work with local restauranteurs. Moreover, employees often leave their offices to get lunch, drinks, or dinner at other local restaurants that have sprung up around Amazon buildings.

Amazon’s decision to grow up and not out; to protect the environment; to take advantage of the infrastructure that’s been developing downtown, whether its transit or sidewalks. Those decisions have been very beneficial for the city and region.

Jon Scholes – president of the Downtown Seattle Association

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, more than 2,000 small businesses have opened in downtown Seattle since Amazon moved to South Lake Union.

Many factors went into the company’s decision to create a downtown campus. One big reason was that, very early on, the company’s leadership team realized that today’s engineering talent is far more interested in living and working in an urban environment than prior generations have been.

Over the decade-plus that Amazon has been near downtown Seattle, its local investments have grown and evolved to match the community’s needs. Amazon has contributed tens of millions of dollars to local affordable housing projects. It’s has committed more than $40 million to two local organizations, FareStartand Mary’s Place, who work with populations in need.

FareStart offers people who have lived in poverty, culinary job training so they can work in the food service industry. Amazon has given FareStart more than 25,000 square feet of space, as well as culinary equipment. Amazon’s commitment to Mary’s Place, has been equally significant. In one of Amazon’s new headquarter buildings, which will be completed in 2020, it has donated more than 47,000 square feet of space to Mary’s Place which will enable the charity to offer temporary housing to over 200 women, children and families per night.

Earlier this year, Amazon also announced a new, two year, $2 million partnership with Seattle’s Alliance for Education. That donation will create the Right Now Needs Fund, a new initiative that supports the most basic needs of under-privileged students across Seattle’s public school system. Things like coats, shoes, food, school supplies, and similar kinds of basic, everyday items will be covered by Amazon’s donation.

“This is a thoughtful way for Amazon to invest in the critical needs of Seattle’s public school community,” said Lisa Chick, the president and CEO of the Alliance for Education. “We’re working alongside Seattle school principals who have told to us how incredibly important Amazon’s support is going to be to their students.”

Amazon’s growth, together with the development of the South Lake Union community, has attracted national attention, and positioned the once-gritty neighborhood as a rising star in the hi-tech world. In 2010, only seven Fortune 500 companies had a presence in Seattle. Today, there are 31.

Google, the Silicon Valley-based search and advertising giant, will open a major new tech hub in South Lake Union in 2021. Google’s building is expected to house more than 5,000 employees, and will complement two new office buildings Facebook and Expedia have recently opened overlooking Lake Union.

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