Amazon's search for a site for its second headquarters is now mostly playing out behind closed doors, as officials from 20 finalist locations provide the company with additional materials.
In the vacuum, the tiniest shreds of information related to the HQ2 search are being examined with a level of scrutiny normally reserved for the Zapruder film or Bryce Harper's coming free agency.
The Amazon search is a serious matter. The chosen city could reap 50,000 jobs and $4 billion in investments from the company. Taxpayers may be asked to foot billions of dollars of subsidies to win the deal. Housing markets and traffic patterns may be dramatically affected by the company's decision. A group backed by the Koch Brothers published a video opposing subsidies for the project. On the other hand, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe suggested recently, in an interview, that "whoever wins this thing is going to run for president."
As anticipation builds, new clues surface seemingly every day about where Amazon is headed, one revelation overtaking the next. So why not indulge? Here's a sample of guesses.
1. Amazon is going to Austin, as it cunningly revealed in its Super Bowl ad.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) recently starred in the company's Super Bowl spot. But that's not what what caught the attention of folks in the capital of Texas.
The ad opens with an Alexa device giving a tooth-brushing woman a report on the weather in Austin. As Texas Monthly put it, "it's a big ol' clue, as far as we're concerned." Alexa is later asked to play country music, another obvious reference to Austin! (Unless, of course, it is nod to Nashville).
But that's not all. The spot ends with actor Anthony Hopkins feeding snacks to a peacock, which just so happens to be something of an informal mascot for the city due to the bird's prevalence in Mayfield Park.
2. Amazon is going to Maryland because it hired someone who worked there.
When Amazon announced its list of 20 finalists, the company included a comment from executive Holly Sullivan who said the search helped the company learn "about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation."
One place Sullivan presumably didn't need to read up on was Montgomery County, Maryland, where her very job was to grow the county's economy as president of the now-defunct Montgomery Business Development Corp. Just look at how confidently she promotes the county's business climate in this county cable television program from 2013.
Current Montgomery County economic development executive David Petr told the Baltimore Sun that "I don't think Holly has an influence either way." But a state delegate told the newspaper that he thinks "it's a good thing" for the state's chances. Aha!
3. Amazon is going to Northern Virginia, as demonstrated by its employees' interest in environmentally friendly green buildings there.
Everyone from the New York Times to the Drudge Report noted a recent exclusive report from the web site ARLnow.com, which discovered by looking through its online readership data that it had received thousands of clicks from an Amazon.com domain on an article titled "County Wins Top Environmental Award from U.S. Green Building Council."
The site reported that "the vast majority" of some 6,000 views appeared to come from Amazon and that the traffic source "appears to be an internal Amazon.com page devoted to its HQ2 search." The article goes on to report how Arlington County, Virginia, was the first place in the country to earn top certification for use of green and resilient buildings - exactly the type of buildings Amazon would like to fill!
4. Amazon is going to Boston, because its executives already decided.
A week after Amazon began its search and weeks before the deadline to submit information, Bloomberg reported that "several" senior executives advocated putting the second headquarters in Boston. The reasons were many, and believable: Boston has wonderful colleges, a lower cost of living than New York, and Amazon had already purchased a local robot-maker there.
Amazon strongly refuted this. "Bloomberg is incorrect - there are no front-runners at this point. We're just getting started & every city is on equal playing field," Amazon News wrote on Twitter.
However, Amazon did name Boston a finalist. And last month Boston reporters found that the company was negotiating a deal for up to 1 million square feet in Boston, which could be a precursor to HQ2!
5. Amazon is going to Los Angeles, because its code name for the headquarters is 'Project Golden.'
Earlier this month, sleuths at the Raleigh News & Observer determined that multiple bidders had referenced 'project Golden' in their Amazon responses. "It is with great enthusiasm the Hickory [area] submits the attached response for project Golden (HQ2)," wrote Catawaba County, N.C. economic development official Scott Millar to the company with its bid.
Catawaba County was not named a finalist but perhaps Millar's wording let slip the project's code name, which sounds a lot like a reference to the Golden State, a.k.a. California, a.k.a. the home state of HQ2 finalist Los Angeles.
Millar was not alone in observing this. As the News & Observer reported:
"Back in September, the city of Frisco, Texas and the Frisco Economic Development Corp. prepared a pitch to Amazon outlining a $300 million local incentive proposal for " 'Project Golden Headquarters (HQ2).' "
"Also that month, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the headquarters search had been dubbed Project Golden. Earlier this week, the Albuquerque Journal reported emails detailing New Mexico's prospects that identify it as Project Golden."
Now we're getting somewhere!
Maybe not. An Amazon spokesman subsequently told the paper that Golden is, um, the last name of the mail clerk to whom the submissions were to be addressed. A closer look at the request for proposals shows that submissions are to be sent to the following address:
Amazon Office of Economic Development c/o Site Manager Golden 2121 7th Ave Seattle 98121
Humph. Well, it appears that some local economic development officials simply misread the search materials.
Or did they?