This article, originally published by Builder, is part three of a four-part series about Amazon's effect on housing and rental markets in Seattle, and its potential impact on each of the proposed cities for its second U.S. headquarters. Read part one and part two here.

Image courtesy Wonderlane via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy Wonderlane via Flickr Creative Commons

Mike Pattison knows that the ability to accommodate future growth is the critical component for any city Amazon chooses for its second headquarters. Pattison, the Snohomish County manager of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties in Washington state, saw what happened in Seattle when the retail giant opened its first U.S. headquarters there eight years ago. He emphasizes that there’s no such thing as over-planning.

“There's going to be big impact, and it’s going to be more diverse than [they] think,” Pattison says about the cities. He adds that they “have to look at future infrastructure needs honestly, and commit to making the investments. You can’t start too soon, because it could take a decade to build the new roads, schools, extend sewer systems, and construct other infrastructure needed to accommodate this kind of growth. You can’t start too early, and you can’t think too big.”

Pattison says he believes the Seattle area was largely "caught napping," and that it was too late to respond when Amazon's massive expansion happened because the region was under-planned for infrastructure.

It’s important to remember that Seattle didn’t ask for Amazon to set up shop there, says Todd Britsch, Metrostudy regional director for the Seattle market. As such, the cities vying for HQ2—which completed in-depth proposals for the campus—will be more prepared to absorb population growth and the resulting need for housing without pricing out buyers and renters.

According to Metrostudy, 1.3 million people migrated to Washington between 2010 and 2017, an average of 161,327 new residents every year. This stands in stark contrast to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau about domestic net migration in the United States between 2000 and 2004, when Washington state had the lowest level of average annual inmigration of any state, with only 13,354 new residents each year.

“I don’t think that anybody anticipated the amount of growth that Amazon was going to bring to [Seattle], I don't think Amazon even necessarily knew," Britsch says. His advice for the city ultimately chosen for HQ2 would be to “embrace the growth, because it's inevitable. Cities are fighting to bring large employers like Amazon in, and while there are some negatives that come along with that, the vast majority of it is incredibly positive.”

In Seattle, Britsch has found that the majority of Amazon employees live within 3 miles of the hub where the corporate office is, at least at first. When Amazon hires young tech workers from China, India, Europe, and other U.S. cities, they initially flood into downtown apartments and then migrate to the suburbs once they've settled in, about 12 to 18 months after they arrive.

"Sometimes we try to put tech workers in a box that they're all urbanists, but the new host city is going to find that they need a diversity of housing options. Not every employee with a family is going to want to live in the urban core, and their suburban areas will see just as much pressure as their downtown cores," Pattison says. "We've seen leapfrog growth [in Seattle]—a highly paid tech employee may want a yard with a fence and room for their dog to run around, and they're willing to drive an hour and a half commute each way to have it."

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