Sep 7, 2018

Amazon's treasure trove of data

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Amazon has concluded its 14-month search for a second global headquarters and selected Crystal City, Virginia, and Long Island City, Queens, New York, to host the split HQ2. But the search has yielded more than just that.

The big picture: When Amazon invited cities to compete for HQ2, it got reams of data from the 238 entrants — enough to learn details of the cities' future plans that a lot of their residents don't even know.

Why it matters: The information effectively provided Amazon with a database chock-full of granular details about the economic development prospects of every major metropolitan area in the United States (and some in Canada). For a rapidly expanding tech behemoth like Amazon, that database could help it make expansion decisions that go way beyond the new headquarters.

Companies have conducted site searches in the past, but none have come close to the scale of the Amazon HQ2 search. That's because Amazon is "not just looking for HQ2," says Joe Parilla of the Brookings Institution. "They're looking for where they're going to put the next data center, the next logistics center, the next R&D facility."

  • Amazon's warehouses are within 20 miles of 31% of the U.S. population, while Walmart — its competitor — owns stores within 20 miles of 98% of the population, says Cooper Smith, an industry analyst at Gartner L2.
  • "Given they are siting new facilities like mad, this is a huge gift provided by taxpayers," Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, tells Axios.

Much of the quantitative data that Amazon picked up from cities is publicly available, Parilla says. What matters is the qualitative data cities offered up — they let Amazon in on their wildest dreams.

  • The sort of details that might be in a typical HQ2 application include plans for new train stations or shopping complexes — information the city's own residents wouldn't have, he says.

After an initial wave of glowing publicity around Amazon's plan to bring 50,000 jobs to the winning city through HQ2, the search was criticized for lack of transparency around what exactly cities are offering the company to win.

  • Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the 20 finalists Amazon was considering, responded to a FOIA request by sending the New York Times a 10-page document of the financial incentives it offered — with every single line of text redacted.
  • City council members in Indianapolis and Austin, two other finalists, told the Times that their Amazon bids were put together by local chambers of commerce and many city leaders don't even know what incentives are on the table.
  • That's another perk of soliciting hundreds of applications, says Florida of the University of Toronto: "[Amazon] now knows what these communities are willing to dish out in terms of taxpayer funded incentives."

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: Market ends worst week since financial crisis

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The stock market ended its worst week since the financial crisis, prompting the Fed to release a statement. Meanwhile, the WHO warned that countries are losing their chance to contain the novel coronavirus and raised its global risk assessment to "very high" Friday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,860 people and infected more than 84,000 others in over 60 countries and territories outside the epicenter in mainland China. The number of new cases reported outside China now exceed those inside the country.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

California coronavirus: Latest case has no recent history of international travel

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A new case of the novel coronavirus in California was announced on Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that 33 people had tested positive for the virus, noting the risk to the public remains low.

What's new: An adult woman with chronic health conditions in Santa Clara County who "did not recently travel overseas" or come into contact with anyone known to be ill was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus on Friday by CDC and California Department of Public Health officials.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 4 hours ago - Health

Big video game conference delayed amid coronavirus concerns

Photo: GDC

Next month's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco became the latest tech event to be cancelled or postponed amid growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The big picture: A growing number of events are being scrapped, including Mobile World Congress and Facebook's F8 developer conference. Some, like the giant SXSW event in Austin, insist they are moving forward.