EDITORIAL | The real lesson from Amazon’s HQ2 decision

Amidst the hemming and hawing about Amazon’s decision to establish a second headquarters, or “HQ2” as the company is calling it, one point has gone sorely ignored.

What if the online retailer struggles?

Regardless of whether another 50,000 employees in one location would have been a good move for company or city — and there are reasons to believe it would have done more harm than good for both — the fallout for the Puget Sound if Amazon hits choppy waters is something to consider.

Take our fraught relationship with Boeing, for instance. 

For decades, Seattle’s economic status relied almost solely on the state of the airplane manufacturer.

The “Boeing Bust” saw the company’s workforce drop from a high of more than 100,000 in 1968 to just over 30,000 four years later. In the blink of an eye, nearly 70,000 Puget Sound residents were jobless.

The regional job losses that came with the burst of the “dot com bubble” — in addition to the shedding of almost 30,000 aerospace positions in the aviation downturn after 9/11 — rivaled that bust.

But our collective memories are apparently short.

Lamenting that the region won’t benefit from a single employer adding an additional 50,000 jobs; an employer that already drives a disproportionate share of the city’s economy, at that, ignores the lessons that should have been learned in past downturns.

The Seattle Times has taken to calling the city “the largest company town,” in America, noting its dominance in terms of office space and number of employees in the city. Even now, that’s dangerous, and adding to it would have been even more untenable.

Relying on one company to propel a city is risky.

Relying on one industry to propel a city is risky.

Diversification is key.

The city should not be asking what it could have done to entice Amazon to continue growing at a rapid pace in the city.

Instead, the questions (plural) should be how the city and the state can make themselves attractive for other industries. What more can be done for the biotech sector? What about protecting the maritime industry, and the good paying jobs that come with it? And perhaps most importantly, how can they support small businesses, and those with visions of becoming the next Amazon?

The growth of Amazon from just 5,000 employees in Seattle at the start of the decade to approximately 40,000 today has been welcome, growing pains for the city and all.

Their decision to grow elsewhere is in itself not concerning, and the lesson shouldn’t be how the city could have bent over backwards to accommodate them. It should instead be about what needs to be done to keep the region from being so heavily reliant on a single behemoth in the first place.