In next round of Amazon HQ2 competition, Philly’s strong pharma industry may give the city an edge

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 Shown is the skyline in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 5, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Shown is the skyline in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 5, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

When Amazon announced, last fall, that it was looking for a city to host a second headquarters, the company said it wanted pretty much what everybody wants in a home. Something affordable with a good commute, maybe some great schools nearby — and if it could come with some tax breaks, that’d be great.

Today’s announcement that Philadelphia is one of 20 cities to progress to the next round in the corporate giant’s hunt says that the City of Brotherly Love has all that. Or at least more of it than two hundred and eighteen other cities, says Harold Epps, the city’s commerce director.

“To go from a list of 238 to a list of 20 only reinforces this is a wonderful region and we have a lot of positive assets and Amazon recognizes that.”

Philadelphia’s competitors for the big prize of a $5 billion corporate home generating 50,000 high-paying jobs include likely suspects such as New York,  Boston, and Washington D.C as well as some unexpected picks such as Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio. Closer to home, rising tech capital Pittsburgh made the cut, as did Newark, likely a result of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s offer of $7 billion in tax subsidies.

Amazon HQ2 candidate cities.
Amazon HQ2 candidate cities. (Amazon.com)

The public bidding war for Amazon’s HQ2 drummed up a ton of press coverage last year. That was no accident.

John Boyd is a corporate relocation consultant. Today’s announcement means Amazon will dominate news coverage and score a ton of free advertising. All for one simple reason.

“Y’know, Amazon is very PR savvy, ok,” says Boyd. “We’re a nation that loves lists, we love top twenty lists, right?”

But it’s not all PR. The corporate relocation specialist says Philadelphia earned its spot on the list.

“I don’t think all of these twenty cities are necessarily on equal footing,” he says. “I mean some are real long shots here, that Philadelphia enjoys a big advantage over.”

Boyd has a short list of his own.

The six he thinks have the best shot: Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Newark New Jersey, Washington DC, and Philly.

Washington may be the city to beat, says Boyd. The Greater Washington Metro area has three sites on the finalist list: Northern Virginia, Montgomery County, Md., and DC itself. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and has a mansion in the District. And as Amazon expands into new industries and faces more regulatory scrutiny, it may make sense to keep a close eye on lobbying efforts from a nearby headquarters.

But Philadelphia may have a leg up on its competitors. Amazon is expanding aggressively into pharmaceuticals. And for years now, the eds and meds sector has been the region’s biggest economic driver. If Amazon wants to run this new pharma division out of HQ2, then Philly might offer just the right prescription.

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