It's not just Amazon, Northern Virginia also wants a bite of Apple
The high-tech corridor outside the nation's capitol isn't just a potential lure for Amazon. Apple may be in the mix.
Northern Virginia is one of 20 finalists for Amazon's second headquarters, and the region has invited Apple to consider it for a 20,000-person campus the iPhone maker is planning for somewhere in the U.S.
Apple is seeking 4 million square feet of office space, economic development officials and real estate executives told The Washington Post. That's about half as large as the campus Amazon is planning. Apple is also said to be exploring North Carolina's Research Triangle region, another possible location for Amazon.
These twin tech "trophy" deals, the two largest in U.S. history, would be a boon for Northern Virginia, according to Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes economic accountability in development deals.
"These are enormous standalone growth projects," he said.
Apple announced in January that it would spend $30 billion on new facilities and hire 20,000 employees in the U.S. over the next five years, setting off feverish speculation about where it would land. Unlike Amazon, Apple has not made its search public. CEO Tim Cook said in a recent interview that Apple was not engaged in a "beauty contest kind of thing." Apple declined to comment on the report in The Washington Post.
The gravitational pull for West Coast technology companies to the D.C. region: a young, highly educated and tech savvy workforce, nearby colleges, universities and research institutions and easy access to mass transit, not to mention greater proximity to a Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump administration, an added benefit given growing calls for regulation of the industry.
"It is akin to what the defense industry did in the 1990s and early 2000s when it moved headquarters and facilities to be closer in touch with the people who use its products," said Tom Stringer, a corporate location specialist and managing director at BDO International. "Big tech companies, as big and diversified as they have gotten and as many regulatory areas they now fall under, are starting to take the same approach."
But could Northern Virginia, a region already straining from overcrowding and traffic congestion, accommodate both tech giants?
"If both were to come to Northern Virginia, that would be a very stressful event," LeRoy said. "You'd have to rebuild the economic geography of Northern Virginia."
Word leaked Wednesday that Apple was considering a Northern Virginia campus that would be two-thirds the size of the Pentagon.
Some of the locations said to be under consideration — office buildings and development sites in Crystal City close to the Pentagon, privately owned Loudoun County land near the Center for Innovative Technology, northwest of the nation's capitol, and the Scotts Run development in Tysons, between Dulles International Airport and Washington — have also been proposed for Amazon.
Another area catching Apple's eye: North Carolina's Research Triangle, close to Duke University, where Cook and other Apple executives went to school, the Triangle Business Journal reported.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and state Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland met with Cook on May 11, according to the report. Cook was in town to give a commencement speech at Duke University on May 13.
The North Carolina's governor's office declined comment.
For both companies, a decision is likely to involve talent, incentives — and the threat of increased regulation. Since the 2016 election, major tech companies have increased lobbying and policy operations, and those efforts have grown in size and urgency since the practices of Facebook, Google and other companies have come under heavy scrutiny from consumers, lawmakers and regulators.
Tech companies are also trying to find common ground with the Trump administration, whose policies sometimes run counter to the industry's stances on immigration, trade and other key issues.
Northern Virginia is home to an established "technology corridor" near Dulles International Airport that was dubbed the "Silicon Valley of the East" four years ago by The Atlantic magazine. The region’s proximity to the federal government makes it attractive to defense, tech, telecom and Internet companies.
"It makes perfect sense that Apple would consider Northern Virginia for its second headquarters," given its schools and highly educated workforce, said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., who represents Virginia’s 11th District in the House of Representatives, which includes counties in Northern Virginia.
Fairfax County, which makes up a large chunk of Northern Virginia, is home to eight Fortune 500 company headquarters, and it already has the second-largest concentration of technology jobs of any major U.S. market, it says. Companies in the county, which include General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, collectively accounted for $22.8 billion in U.S. government contracts in fiscal year 2015, equal to 5% of all awarded and more than 46 states and Washington, D.C..
"The quality of our technology workforce cannot be surpassed by anyone. It's a package that will be very very appealing," Northern Virginia Technology Council President and CEO Bobbie Kilberg says.
Still, Kilberg wonders if both Amazon and Apple would locate in Northern Virginia.
Amazon is nearing the end of a search for its second headquarters. Dubbed HQ2, it will be the "full equal" to its original Seattle home.
Twenty cities are fighting to land the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment Amazon is offering. Those new Amazon employees will, in turn, produce as many as 250,000 indirect jobs, according to calculations from Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
So far three Washington D.C.-area spots — the District itself, Northern Virginia and Montgomery Co., Md. — along with Austin, Boston and Atlanta, rank high among analysts speculating on the winners.
Amazon is whittling away at the finalist list. The Texas Tribune says Amazon eliminated Arlington, Texas, as a contender two weeks ago.
One advantage for D.C. and Maryland: Each has laws protecting gay rights, Virginia does not. Amazon and Apple are supporters of the lesbian and gay community. And gay rights advocates have been running a No Gay? No Way! campaign to discourage Amazon from choosing an area without protections for employees and their families.
"My guess is if Amazon keeps to its time timetable of deciding (its HQ2) this summer, if I was Apple I’d wait and see and think about going forward from there," Kilberg said.