Denver's Tech Community Will Thrive Without Amazon HQ2
The upside of losing the HQ2 bid
As you've no doubt heard, Amazon declared New York City and Northern Virginia joint winners in the contest for HQ2.
Denver's thriving technology scene made us a strong contender. Many are disappointed we've lost out on the opportunity for tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Others will be relieved that Amazon won't bring more congestion, another spike in real estate prices and endless construction altering the look and feel of the community.
I believe the best way to understand the impact of this decision lies somewhere between these two extremes. I believe Denver can and will continues its progress in becoming a rising center for tech, and I believe losing the hope of HQ2 gives us the chance to do it in a sustainable, responsible way that avoids the mistakes of other technology centers.
The first thing that must be pointed out is the HQ2 spectacle attracted outsized attention. There has been near-constant media across the country for the last year. This was the result of Amazon conducting either an extremely diligent selection process, a brilliant marketing campaign or some combination of the two.
The buzz surrounding HQ2 unnaturally elevated the impact Amazon could have. Too many communities put all their faith into the company, believing Amazon could instantly put them on the map, and cure a range of economic and social challenges.
The reality is successful tech hubs cannot be built by a single organization. Amazon benefited from the presence of companies like Microsoft and Boeing in Seattle, Washington. The best know American tech headquarters – Silicon Valley – isn't known as home to just Google or Facebook, but instead an ecosystem of complementary parts. This includes a pipeline of talent from institutions such as Stanford and University of California Berkeley, among others, as well as a deep venture capital network, willing and able to fund new startups. It is the interplay of these elements – not the presence a single person or group – that has made the Bay Area the competitive center it is.
Of course, many will argue that for all of its success, the Bay Area is also facing a range of issues that Denver would be lucky to escape. There is no doubt that for all of its success, Silicon Valley suffers from problems ranging from runaway real estate prices to crushing congestion and persistent economic inequality.
Missing out on the Amazon sweepstakes is a unique opportunity for Denver to avoid many of these say mistakes and inherent challenges. Had we been successful in our HQ2 bid, Amazon would have had an outsized influence on our business, political and community life. For context, Seattle is the biggest "company town' in the United States, with Amazon occupying nearly 20 percent of all office space.
Now we have the chance for freedom to build a thriving tech scene in a uniquely Denver fashion. We are early in that journey, but we are already doing it. The company I work for – Xero – just opened its new American headquarters on Platte Street. We're joined by a lengthy list of companies that now call Denver home: Four Winds Interactive, Gusto, Healthgrades, HomeAdvisor, Ibotta, Ping Identity, SendGrid and Workday, among them.
Technology-based businesses are choosing Denver because we have the foundations for a long-term ecosystem: A critical mass of innovative companies, strong higher education institutions and a supportive community, willing to invest in new ideas. We've got everything we need to build something even more remarkable than the instant gratification Amazon may have provided. If we get it right, we can build a sustainable, prosperous and thriving tech hub that benefits everyone who calls Denver home.
Andy Burner is the COO of Xero Americas, @AndyBurner.