Amazon gained a huge perk from its HQ2 contest that's worth far more than any tax break

Getty/Mark MakelaAmazon’s HQ2 search has given the company a trove of valuable data.
  • Amazon’s contest for the home of its second headquarters has helped the company score valuable data on land use and development across the United States.
  • A 253-page proposal that New York City prepared at the request of Amazon, which The New York Times published in full on Friday, shows that the city provided extensive data – some of it not publicly available – on its work force, education systems, optimal sites for development, current and future land use and development projects, and other information .
  • The proposals that 238 cities submitted to Amazon are likely to contain similar details.
  • “Amazon will put that data to prodigious use in the coming years to expand its empire,” said Stacy Mitchell, a director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank based in Washington, DC.

Amazon’s highly publicized hunt for the site of its new headquarters, known as HQ2, was a brilliant strategy.

The contest resulted in cities warring for Amazon’s favour with offers of billions of dollars in tax breaks and other generous promises.

It has also given Amazon something that’s potentially far more valuable than any subsidies it may have gleaned: a trove of data.

“Amazon has a godlike view of what’s happening in digital commerce, and now cities have helped give it an inside look at what’s happening in terms of land use and development across the US,” said Stacy Mitchell, a director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank based in Washington, DC. “Amazon will put that data to prodigious use in the coming years to expand its empire.”

Amazon received proposals from 238 cities vying to be chosen as the home of its second headquarters.

The company then selected 20 finalists, and sent those cities a 29-page request for additional data.

New York City’s 235-page response to that second reqeust was obtained and published by The New York Times on Friday. It contained detailed information – some of it not publicly available – on the city’s work force, education systems, optimal sites for development, and current and future land use and development projects.

While the information in many of those proposals is sealed from the public or otherwise heavily redacted, it’s safe to assume that most contain similar details.

Amazon could use this data to aid in future expansion as it selects sites for new stores, warehouses, data centres, fulfillment centres, and other brick-and-mortar needs.


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In some cases, the bids could help Amazon get a leg up over its competitors, because the data they contain might not be publicly available.

“This is an incredibly valuable trove of data that 238 cities spent time compiling and submitting to Amazon,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, it may well be that the data is the most valuable thing that Amazon has gotten out of this.”

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