One woman is leading Amazon's search for a new headquarters -- and her past may reveal important clues about where it will be

YouTube/MyMCMHolly Sears Sullivan, 45, is leading Amazon’s HQ2 search.
  • Holly Sears Sullivan, 45, is leading Amazon‘s HQ2 search, and she has strong ties to the Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, DC, areas – both of which are on the short list for Amazon’s new headquarters.
  • Before joining Amazon in 2016, Sullivan at different times led economic development teams in counties neighbouring Nashville and DC.
  • According to her LinkedIn profile, Sullivan is now based in DC.
  • During her time in Tennessee, Sullivan negotiated a deal that delivered a 1-million-square-foot Amazon distribution facility to Murfreesboro.

Amazon’s search for the site of its new headquarters, called HQ2, is being led by a woman whose past may offer clues as to which city will win the company’s highly hyped contest.

Holly Sears Sullivan, 45, joined Amazon two years ago, in April 2016, from an economic-development position in Montgomery County, Maryland. The county borders Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia, and all three are on Amazon’s HQ2 short list.

Holly Sears SullivanMaryland Economic Development AssociationSullivan joined Amazon in April 2016.

Sullivan is now the head of worldwide economic development at Amazon, and she’s based in the Washington, DC, area, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Before joining Amazon, Sullivan spent more than 15 years working to attract and retain businesses in local communities – first near Nashville, Tennessee, which is also on Amazon’s HQ2 short list, and later in Montgomery County.

Now she’s on the other end of those dealings, as she leads tours of the 20 cities Amazon is scouting for the site of its new headquarters.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In Maryland, Sullivan was president of the public-private Montgomery Business Development Corp., which has since been replaced with the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.

In Tennessee, Sullivan led economic development in Rutherford County and Wilson County, both just east of Nashville, from 1999 to 2012.

In 2001, at age 28, she was selected to be Wilson County’s development director after a nationwide search of more than 42 applicants. She had been the county’s planning director.

Later she moved to Rutherford County’s Chamber of Commerce, where she negotiated a deal that delivered a 1-million-square-foot Amazon distribution facility to Murfreesboro, about 45 minutes southeast of Nashville.

In 2011, Sullivan was named to the Nashville Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” list, and in 2015 she was one of two cochairs named by the International Council of Shopping Centres to its Washington regional panel on leadership.

According to the Maryland Economic Development Association, Sullivan’s work in the Nashville area led to the creation of more than 28,000 net new jobs as a result of 302 projects representing more than $US7.5 billion in capital investments. Sullivan also led two fundraising campaigns for the area that exceeded $US8.5 million.

Could Sullivan’s ties to DC and Nashville influence Amazon?

Holly Sears SullivanMyMCMIn Maryland, Sullivan was president of the public-private Montgomery Business Development Corp.

Little is known about Sullivan’s personal life. A Nashville native, she earned her master of science degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Tennessee.

In a 2011 interview with the Nashville Business Journal, Sullivan revealed a few details about what she had learned during her career.

“There are always challenges – it is how you handle them that matters most,” she said. Sullivan also said she had learned to “listen more” and “talk less.”

It remains to be seen whether Sullivan’s ties to Nashville and the Washington area will influence Amazon’s HQ2 search.

David Petr, the president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, told The Baltimore Sun in January that Sullivan’s past wouldn’t sway Amazon.

“I don’t think Holly has an influence either way,” Petr said.

The Maryland state Del. Bill Frick, a Democrat from Montgomery County, shared a different view.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Frick, who knows Sullivan, told The Sun of her role in Amazon’s search process. “She would know the human capital of Montgomery County.”

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