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Amazon HQ2: What residents in 19 U.S. finalist cities think about the $5B project

This survey by the Elon University Poll, conducted in partnership with The Business Journals, tracks support for the expansive project and how locals believe it might impact their lives.

FULL REPORT with METHODOLOGY & CROSSTABS

Within the 19 locations in 16 U.S. metros competing to land the second headquarters for retail and technology giant Amazon, there are varying degrees of enthusiasm and support, according to a new survey by the Elon University Poll conducted in partnership with The Business Journals.

The Elon Poll/The Business Journals survey gauged public opinion in these metro areas — many of the country’s largest — about landing the project, which promises to be home to 50,000 workers and an investment of $5 billion. The Elon Poll found enthusiasm for the project strongest among Atlanta and Pittsburgh, with more than half the populations in those cities saying they “strongly support” Amazon creating a second headquarters there.

Support for landing Amazon HQ2 was lowest in Austin, Texas, and in Denver, Colorado. In both cities, only about one in three said they strongly supported the project and outright opposition to the project was the highest among the metros surveyed. In Denver, 16 percent oppose the project and in Austin, 13 percent are against it, while among the other cities the level of opposition ranged from 2 to 7 percent. 

“The balance between cheerleaders and opponents is key to how a major change is received within a community. While a majority in all of the HQ2 finalist regions support Amazon moving to town, some areas had more cheerleaders and fewer opponents,” says Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and assistant professor of political science. “Our results suggest Amazon should expect Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Indianapolis to be particularly rich with advocates. Conversely, executives should have at least some reason for pause about the potential for opposition groups emerging in Austin and Denver.”

The survey also explored public appetite for large-scale incentives packages and the perceived impact from such a large-scale project as the Amazon headquarters on the local community in terms of real estate costs, cost of living and wages. It asked whether residents want what promises to be an expansive Amazon campus in the suburbs or downtown.

From an economic standpoint, the survey tapped into public opinion about how landing Amazon’s so-called HQ2 would impact local businesses and a city’s attractiveness to other businesses. The Elon Poll asked local residents whether they believe the local economy needs the boost HQ2 promises to deliver, and whether they would explore job opportunities at the headquarters.

Finally, the poll asked about how such a project might affect the local political flavor of these metros – making it more liberal, more conservative, or not having much impact. 

Find the complete Elon Poll/The Business Journals survey report, with results for each U.S. location and crosstabs, here.

The online survey conducted in partnership with The Business Journals of 7,397 adult residents from the 19 U.S. finalist locations in 16 metro areas was conducted March 30 through April 3. For this survey, the Elon Poll used an online opt-in sample, with respondents receiving small amounts of compensation in exchange for their opinions. Each metro had between 350 and 1,000 respondents. The poll’s complete methodology, including credibility intervals for the survey by metro, is available within the full report.

Public opinion about the project

Across multiple measures, the residents of Atlanta and Pittsburgh appear the most enthusiastic about the prospect of Amazon locating its second headquarters in their city, and the most knowledgeable about their region’s efforts to land the project.

In each of the two metros, 52 percent of the residents said they strongly support Amazon creating its second headquarters in the city, the highest among the 19 U.S. locations. When asked whether their region was the best choice from the perspective of Amazon executives, Atlanta residents were most bullish about their city among the contenders, though only 52 percent of Pittsburgh residents felt the same — a mid-range level among the locations.

Pittsburgh and Atlanta residents also proved to be the most knowledgeable about the efforts to land the project, with 31 percent of Pittsburgh residents saying they had heard about local efforts compared to 27 percent of Atlanta residents — the highest levels among the 19 locations.

Austin, Boston and Denver emerged as locations where there is the least support for the Amazon headquarters project, with these three metros registered the lowest levels of strong support and among the highest levels of outright opposition. Only about 35 percent of the population in each of the three metros voiced strong support, the poll found, while in Austin and Denver, the percentage of the population opposing the project registered in the double digits — the only two metros to do so.

There’s no clear correlation between the size of the metro and the level of support for the Amazon HQ2 project. While the country’s largest metros — New York and Los Angeles — were among the lowest levels of strong support for the project, large metros such as Chicago and Dallas had much stronger levels of support. Similarly, Denver and Austin are among the smaller metros in contention and appear to be the least supportive, yet other smaller locations such as Indianapolis and Columbus have much higher levels of support.

“Crucial to an individual’s support for HQ2 is the perception of how much a region needs the economic stimulus,” says Husser, director of the Elon Poll. “Those who saw ‘a lot’ of need in their region for an economic boost were over six times as likely to strongly support HQ2 than those who saw no need. This explains much of why we observed higher support in places like Pittsburgh than in places like Austin.”

As for where Amazon’s headquarters should be located within the region, majorities in most metros pointed to the suburbs. Support for a suburban location was strongest in Atlanta (71 percent), Dallas (68 percent) and Nashville (67 percent). Support for a downtown location was strongest in New York (55 percent) and Los Angeles (51 percent), the only two of the 19 locations where majorities favored a downtown campus for Amazon. 

Incentives

Any decision by Amazon about where to locate its second headquarters will have the level of incentives offered by state and local governments factored in, with that incentives package to likely rank in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Given that level of incentivization, and its short- and long-term impact on tax revenues and the local tax burden, the Elon Poll explored what residents in these locations in contention think about public financial support for the project.

Given a range of approaches to incentives, the largest segments in the vast majority of the locations — typically about half of the population — preferred the approach of offering special incentives to Amazon, but within reason. The next most popular option was offering nothing more or less to Amazon than what is available to other businesses.

Other options — either offering Amazon anything it wants, or nothing at all — generated only minority support. Los Angeles (21 percent) and Atlanta (18 percent) had the largest segments willing to offer as much of a financial incentive package to Amazon as possible. Denver (17 percent) and Austin (15 percent) had the largest segments of the population saying no financial incentives should be offered to Amazon.

“If you are Amazon, you are relatively happy with these results unless you were leaning toward locating in Austin or Denver,” said Brandon Sheridan, assistant professor of economics in Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. “Public support appears to be the lowest in those areas. Residents in those cities perceive Amazon to be a costly investment that their city does not need to begin with, let alone one that should be offered generous incentives. By comparison, the other sites are much more optimistic about becoming the home of HQ2.”

Regardless of the level of support for incentives, the vast majority in each of the 19 U.S. locations prefers to not shoulder the financial burden of underwriting any incentives package. When asked if they would be willing to pay more in taxes to fund incentives, at least 80 percent of the population in each of the locations said they would not be. Indianapolis was the least opposed to that idea, with 74 percent saying they would not be willing to pay more in taxes and 26 percent saying they would.

“Opinions about incentives for Amazon embody the phenomena of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too,” says Husser. “A strong majority in every city support at least some form of incentives to lure HQ2, but a similar majority was opposed to an increase in taxes to fund those incentives.”

Real estate and wages

As an estimated $5 billion project employing as many as 50,000 people, the Amazon HQ2 is likely to have a broad impact on the local community in terms of what people pay for real estate, how long it takes them to get to work and what dollar figures they see on their paychecks. 

The majority of populations in each location expect the arrival of Amazon HQ2 to bump up both housing prices and commercial real estate rents. The segment believing housing rates would rise ranged from 46 percent (Philadelphia) to 74 percent (Austin). However, there were still significant segments believing that the project would have no impact, with those levels ranging from 24 percent (Austin) to 50 percent (Philadelphia). Those believing housing prices would decrease registered in the single digits in all locations.

Similarly, majorities in each location believe that commercial property rents would rise, with the largest levels (72 percent) in Denver and Austin. Chicago residents were the most likely to say that Amazon HQ2 would have no impact on rates (44 percent).

Along with seeing real estate prices rise, most in each location also believe that wages will increase as well. Indianapolis and Atlanta were the most optimistic about this impact, with 69 percent believing paychecks will increase. Los Angeles was at the other end of the spectrum, with just 44 percent believing average wages would go up with Amazon’s arrival.

Most metros generally believe that Amazon’s decision to locate in their community will have no impact on the cost of living. Austin and Denver were the most pessimistic, with 61 percent in both cities saying that Amazon HQ2 will drive up the cost of living. Philadelphia registered the largest segment believing that the cost of living will stay the same after Amazon’s arrival.

Local economic impact

Those metros that mounted strong bids for the project have promoted to their residents about the economic impact it will have on their regions, both for surrounding businesses and for individuals. These cities are strongly convinced that Amazon locating its second headquarters in their areas will make the region more attractive to other businesses and spur additional growth. In Atlanta and Dallas, 83 percent of residents said Amazon HQ2 would attract more businesses to their areas.

Los Angeles residents (28 percent) and Denver residents (25 percent) were the most likely to say that Amazon HQ2 would have no effect on their region’s attractiveness to other businesses. In New York, 10 percent of the population said that Amazon HQ2 would actually decrease their metro’s attractiveness to other businesses, the highest level of the 19 locations.

“Many of the finalist city residents saw inevitable tensions from growth, recognizing that pros of increased wages and attractiveness to other businesses would arrive alongside cons of increased cost of living, housing prices and commercial rents,” Husser says.

What about those small businesses already in the community? The populations of these metros were generally split on what impact the expansive Amazon HQ2 would have on these companies. The largest segments in most of the metros said it would have either a somewhat positive impact or would have neither a positive or a negative impact.

Residents in the 19 locations were asked to consider the state of their local economies and whether they needed the 50,000 jobs that Amazon promises to provide. Those metros where support for the project was the strongest also expressed the strongest belief that these additional jobs are needed. In Pittsburgh, 45 percent of residents said the Amazon jobs are needed “a lot” and in Atlanta, 42 percent held that view. At the other end of the spectrum were Austin and Denver, where only 16 percent held the view that the jobs were needed “a lot.”

“The residents of all locations seem to be generally aware of the current economic conditions in their area, with the perceived “need” of landing Amazon higher amongst locations with unemployment rates above the national average,” said Sheridan from Elon’s Love School of Business.

How much are these residents interested in becoming one of these 50,000 employees? Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta registered the highest levels, with 62 percent in Miami saying they plan to explore job opportunities at the new headquarters, 58 percent in Los Angeles and 57 percent in Atlanta.

Changing political landscape

The influx of Amazon’s corporate culture and a workforce 50,000 strong could have a perceived impact on the local political landscape in some of the metros now being considered, particularly given recent comments critical of Amazon by President Donald Trump.

With that in mind, the Elon Poll asked residents in these locations whether Amazon HQ2 would make their region more liberal, more conservative or have no impact. Majorities in each metro said that there would be little difference in the local political flavor, with between a quarter and a third believing the region would become more liberal and 10 percent or less believing it would become more conservative.