‘We don’t think of Seattle as HQ1’: New Amazon CEO describes ‘rougher’ relationship with city

Oct 7, 2021, 7:32 AM | Updated: 1:02 pm
Amazon Seattle...
The Space Needle is seen near The Spheres at Amazon in downtown Seattle. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Amazon now has a new CEO in Andy Jassy, and with that comes a new perspective on the company’s relationship with the city of Seattle.

Jassy provided insight into that relationship at a Geekwire-hosted panel on Tuesday, detailing an increasingly more tenuous connection to Seattle, which he credited to a city council that “has become less enamored with business or with Amazon.”

“It’s just been rougher,” he opined.

Jassy described a “first 20ish years” that he qualified as “pretty collaborative,” driven by the construction of its downtown Seattle campus.

Then in May of 2018, Seattle City Council unanimously approved a so-called “head tax,” which would have taxed 500 businesses making more than $20 million annually in gross receipts. It was expected to raise $47 million annually, with a large portion of that money earmarked for affordable housing and homeless response efforts.

Seattle head tax 101: How the process played out in 2018

At the time, Amazon warned the city against going through with the levy, going so far as to halt construction on a downtown Seattle tower, while hinting that it would consider moving jobs out of the city in the face of an increased tax burden.

Following increased public pressure and a lengthy negotiation with the mayor’s office  — which later spurred a costly lawsuit over violations of the state’s open public meetings laws — councilmembers voted 7-2 to repeal the tax.

Despite the council’s repeal, though, Amazon began to build out space in Bellevue in the ensuing year, making plans in 2019 to construct the largest office tower the Eastside city has ever seen.

With three years now having passed since the head tax controversy, Seattle has a different levy on the books, taxing corporations with payrolls over $7 million. Under the measure, qualifying businesses are taxed 0.7% for every employee making over $150,000, and 1.4% for employees making over $500,000.

Seattle council passes landmark big business tax proposal

That has Jassy shifting Amazon’s verbiage away from the city where it put down roots nearly two decades ago.

“We don’t think of HQ1 being Seattle any longer — we really think of it as Puget Sound,” he noted. “We have a lot of people in Seattle, but we also have a lot of people in Bellevue and it is where most of our growth will end up being.”

Amazon has at least seven spaces in Bellevue that it either plans to move into or is already occupying. That includes roughly 2,000 employees in Expedia’s former Bellevue corporate headquarters. Employees from Amazon’s worldwide operations team also began moving to Bellevue in April 2019, with the company planning to eventually have the several thousand employees on that team entirely operating from the Eastside.

Amazon still currently has over 50,000 employees in Seattle.

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‘We don’t think of Seattle as HQ1’: New Amazon CEO describes ‘rougher’ relationship with city