Nearly seven years after announcing its return to the city where Jeff Bezos opened Amazon’s first office out of his garage, the company has nearly 10,000 Bellevue-based employees.
Compared to its 55,000-person-strong Seattle campus, Amazon’s Bellevue workforce is small but growing rapidly. It will likely reach the 10,000-worker milestone this summer and plans to increase that workforce to 25,000.
With 5 million square feet of office space in Bellevue and significant investments in affordable housing and transportation, Amazon is making good on its promise to transform the scene from Seattle to its first headquarters in the Puget Sound area.
“Our footprint in Washington is much larger than our corporate jobs in Seattle,” said Guy Palumbo, Amazon’s director of public policy for HQ1. The Eastside “is going to be where most of our growth will be in the future,” he said.
Seattle is still Amazon’s largest campus. The company plans to create 25,000 jobs at its second headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, similar to its Bellevue location. Amazon’s 18 other North American tech centers add up to 65,000 employees in total.
Palumbo said Amazon is expanding outside the Seattle city limits, tapping tech talent already on the Eastside, meeting workers where they want to live and growing in a “business-friendly” regulatory environment. want. He didn’t mention Seattle’s new jumpstart tax, which taxes the region’s biggest employers, as a reason to expand into Lake Washington.
The Charm of the “Urban Suburbs”
John Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, said the Puget Sound area sees development on different shores of Lake Washington at different times.
Microsoft’s growth in Redmond helped open the door for Amazon’s growth in South Lake Union, he said. Now, Amazon’s growth is opening the door for other companies — especially those not looking to add 25,000 employees in just a few short years.
“We had a historic period of job growth in Seattle led by the same company in many ways, but it was also the catalyst,” Scholes said. “The ecosystem they helped build is still very healthy and strong.”
It’s not unusual to see a “baby split,” said Tracy Haden Loh, a fellow at Brookings Metro, a research arm of the nonprofit Brookings Institution, who has studied the development of the Amazon. There are benefits each location can offer, and companies like Amazon want to capture the benefits from Seattle while opening the door for Bellevue.
“For really huge employers, a bunch of satellite offices makes sense,” she said. “I think it will be an indicator of things to come for distributed office spaces in other regions in the US but it sounds like a contradiction – urban suburbs.”
Palumbo said the expansion is an opportunity to reach more tech talent, listing other tech giants like Microsoft, Meta and Google that are already growing in the Puget Sound region’s “innovation triangle” of Kirkland, Bellevue and Redmond.
On top of that, he said, Amazon hopes to appeal to workers — especially those who have been with the company for several years — who want a home with a white picket fence and space for two dogs.
Palumbo didn’t list taxes or Seattle’s progressive politics as reasons to slow expansion there, but did say Amazon was looking for a “business-friendly environment.”
In 2020, Seattle’s city council passed a new tax on large businesses to raise money for economic relief during the pandemic, affordable housing projects and other community development initiatives. The tax, called the Jumpstart Seattle tax, applies to businesses with at least $7 million in annual payroll.
In its first year, Jumpstart Seattle Tax raised $231 million. It’s not clear how much Amazon paid..
Amazon and other businesses launched a successful campaign in 2018 to reverse a similar effort, which would impose a tax of $275 per employee on large corporations. The jumpstart tax has faced opposition from businesses and advocacy groups alike, which say the new regulation will prevent companies from growing in the city.
Rachel Smith, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said Amazon’s decision to expand into Bellevue does not confirm that Seattle’s jumpstart tax is driving businesses away. But it’s a factor in any company’s decision, she said, like safety and affordability.
“If our area is affordable, it affects our businesses that want to be here. If our region feels unsafe or cannot adequately support those individuals experiencing homelessness, it affects all of our businesses,” Smith said. “If we impose new taxes, it affects all of our businesses.”
The Seattle Chamber of Commerce sued to overturn the law, arguing it was illegal. A King County judge upheld the tax last year and an appeal to the chamber is still pending.
“A great place to call home,
Amazon joined South Lake Union in 2010, investing more than $4.5 billion in Seattle alone and building a campus that now includes 10 million square feet of space and room for more than 50 retailers.
It announced plans to set up in Bellevue in 2016, when it leased Center 425, a spectacular 16-story building. In 2020 it announced plans to bring 25,000 jobs to the Eastside by 2025.
Amazon moved workers from its Seattle office on Third Avenue and Pine Street to the former Macy’s building in March, as the crime rate in the area ticked up. The company said at the time that the office’s 1,800 workers would move to other South Lake Union locations, and that remote work was still an option. An Amazon spokesperson said recently that employees in that building were offered alternative options in Seattle and Bellevue.
“We’ve found the Eastside to be a great place to call home,” Schoetler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, wrote in a statement. blog post Last week. “But as with any change, we recognize that our growth – and the growth around us as other companies also invest in this area – may pose some challenges.”
Schötler pointed to two important challenges – housing affordability and transportation – while acknowledging “macro trends” such as inflation and the pandemic that have made the past few years “particularly difficult”.
Amazon is committed to building and preserving affordable housing, promoting sustainable mobility options, and working with local communities “on issues that matter to you,” Schoetler wrote.
Through its Housing Equity Fund, Amazon says it has built and protected 1,157 affordable homes in Bellevue, and increased the number of affordable multifamily units in Bellevue by 20%. According to the blog post, every “Amazon-funded” home will maintain affordable rents for 99 years, and the rent will only increase with increments.
Amazon also helped found a coalition to advocate for progressive housing policies on the Eastside and a rezoning effort to allow taller buildings and greater density in the neighborhood.
“More and more, local governments are ready to open up their plans and say, ‘Hey, we have this other project… we want to put this on your radar,'” said Kathryn Buell, director of Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund. he said.
To ease traffic congestion caused by employees commuting to Bellevue, Amazon said it plans its offices around a new light-rail station to open in 2023, and a trail running from Snohomish County to Renton. Has committed $7.5 million to help eliminate , Amazon gives employees a free ORCA card and up to $170 per month to spend on bike-related expenses.
A ‘whirling’ pace of change
So far, businesses appear to be welcoming of Amazon’s growth, according to Patrick Bannon, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association. The business community worries about Amazon’s presence raising the cost of living and housing, he said, but the company is also accelerating a timeline for the development Bellevue was already hoping to achieve.
In Seattle, Amazon sparked a transformation, said Jeffrey Schulman, a marketing professor at the University of Washington who has studied Seattle’s growth.
Physically, homes are being remodeled and “big fancy new” buildings are replacing neighborhood restaurants and businesses. Financially, more money flows to businesses and homeowners. Culturally, business owners are changing who they are catering to.
“Instead of that dive bar with $2 beers, you see a fancy coffee shop or boutique cocktail bar,” Schulman said.
He said Bellevue has already felt the effects of that change, like a drop of water causing a ripple in a lake. Now, the epicenter of that wave will move from Seattle to Bellevue, and change will accelerate—and expand its reach even more. Schulman expected North Bend and Issaq to start feeling the waves soon.
“It’s good for people looking for work. It’s good for people who have their own home,” Schulman said. “It’s bad for people who are renting, and it’s bad for people who have a strong attachment to certain places that are likely to be physically converted.”
“It’s head spinning,” he continued. “The pace of change in Seattle was dizzying and I expect the same to happen in Bellevue.”
Palumbo from Amazon is counting on this.
“You can see what’s happened in South Lake Union because we grew up there,” he said, referring to the businesses that grew with Amazon. “I think you’ll find it in Bellevue over time as well.”