Amazon Seeks Prime North American Spot For Second Headquarters

Amazon has launched a $5bn (£3.8bn) search for a site for a new headquarters, asking cities across the US and Canada to make their pitches.

The new HQ will be the world’s largest e-commerce company’s second in North America, and “will be a full equal” to its current headquarters in Seattle, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said.

“Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in upfront and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home,” Bezos added.

The company is willing to look beyond the US for its new location, explicitly opening up to Canadian cities.

The pitch to cities from Amazon is simple: the company will bring highly skilled employment worth billions to the local area. Amazon says the second HQ will include “as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs”, and notes that the construction and economic impact of the building “is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community”.

Amazon estimates that in the last six years alone, it has brought an extra $38bn to Seattle’s economy. “Every dollar invested by Amazon in Seattle generated an additional $1.40 for the city’s economy overall,” the company says.

Eileen Burbidge, a partner at venture capital firm Passion Capital and the chair of Tech City UK, said any city would want to entice Amazon to its area. “The ‘prize’ is tremendous if any city/state is able to land Amazon, given its commitment to 50,000 new jobs and $5bn of investment in the HQ2,” she said. “I believe without question that it is beneficial for cities to attract large HQs such as Amazon’s.”

In exchange for all that economic growth, the company has a long list of requirements for any city which wants to bid for its presence. Amazon lists a number of “core preferences”, including a 45-minute drive to an international airport, mass transit (such as a tram or subway stop) connected directly to the site, and at least 500,000 square feet of office space available by 2019.

“It seems that Amazon will be looking at incentive packages to be offered by states/cities,” Burbidge said. “Whether those be tax/other financial incentives or other support and favourable conditions for its capital and operating expenditure forecast.”

In a seven-page document provided to cities interested in bidding, Amazon also lists a number of “decision drivers”, including “the presence and support of a diverse population”, “a strong university system” and “an overall high quality of life”.

But simply being a nice place to live is unlikely to be enough to win the company over. Amazon also lists financial incentives to “offset [its] initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs” as a “key preference”.

“The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers,” the company warns interested governments when asking for a detailed list of all incentives available, including “land, site preparation, tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, permitting, and fee reductions”.

The practice of offering hefty financial incentives to woo big employers to a specific location is widespread, but has come under increasing criticism in recent years. In July, the state of Wisconsin offered a reported $3bn in state subsidies to Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn to entice the firm to build an LCD manufacturing facility. But critics noted that the deal would only bring 3,000 jobs in the short term, potentially rising to 13,000 over the following six years.

Jennifer Shilling, a Democratic Wisconsin state senator, said in July of Foxconn: “The bottom line is this company has a concerning track record of big announcements with little follow-through. Given the lack of details, I’m skeptical about this announcement and we will have to see if there is a legislative appetite for a $1bn-to-$3bn corporate welfare package.”


Trees In The Amazon Make Their Own Rain

The Amazon rainforest is home to strange weather. One peculiarity is that rains begin 2 to 3 months before seasonal winds start to bring in moist air from the ocean. Now, researchers say they have finally figured out where this early moisture comes from: the trees themselves.

The study provides concrete data for something scientists had theorized for a long time, says Michael Keller, a forest ecologist and research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service based in Pasadena, California, who was not involved with the work. The evidence the team provides, he says, is “the smoking gun.”

Previous research showed early accumulation of moisture in the atmosphere over the Amazon, but scientists weren’t sure why. “All you can see is the water vapor, but you don’t know where it comes from,” says Rong Fu, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Satellite data showed that the increase coincided with a “greening” of the rainforest, or an increase in fresh leaves, leading researchers to suspect the moisture might be water vapor released during photosynthesis. In a process called transpiration, plants release water vapor from small pores on the underside of their leaves.

Fu thought it was possible that plants were releasing enough moisture to build low-level clouds over the Amazon. But she needed to explicitly connect the moisture to the tropical forest.

So Fu and her colleagues observed water vapor over the Amazon with NASA’s Aura satellite, a spacecraft dedicated to studying the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere. Moisture that evaporates from the ocean tends to be lighter than water vapor released into the atmosphere by plants. That’s because during evaporation, water molecules containing deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen made of one proton and one neutron, get left behind in the ocean. By contrast, in transpiration, plants simply suck water out of the soil and push it into the air without changing its isotopic composition.

Aura found that the early moisture accumulating over the rainforest was high in deuterium—“too high to be explained by water vapor from the ocean,” Fu says. What’s more, the deuterium content was highest at the end of the Amazon’s dry season, during the “greening” period when photosynthesis was strongest.

The tree-induced rain clouds could have other domino effects on the weather. As those clouds release rain, they warm the atmosphere, causing air to rise and triggering circulation. Fu and colleagues believe that this circulation is large enough that it triggers the shift in wind patterns that will bring in more moisture from the ocean, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists have studied the connection between trees and rain in the Amazon before. A 2012 study found that plants help “seed” the atmosphere for rain by releasing tiny salt particles. But the new study strongly supports the idea that plants play an important role in triggering the rainy season, says Scott Saleska, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved with the work. The deuterium provides a clear “fingerprint” for what plants contribute to the process, he says.

The findings also address a long-standing debate about the role plants play in weather, says Saleska, suggesting that they are more than just “passive recipients,” and that they instead can play an active role in regulating rainfall. If that’s true in the Amazon, Saleska says, climate scientists will need to take into account practices like deforestation when predicting regional changes in weather patterns. And curbing deforestation will be an important step for people to take in preventing drought.

Next, Fu will be studying rainforests in the Congo, to see whether the same process is happening.