Shortly after ‘Amageddon’: How Amazon’s culture is taking a toll on Seattle’s future went viral over at GeekWire, Amazon dropped a bombshell. It’s building enough office space to nearly triple its Seattle headcount by 2019. If you like the current dose of Amazon on our city, how would you like two more doses of equal size? Well, it’s coming our way.
During Thanksgiving week, GeekWire and the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that Amazon plans to have 10 million square feet of office space within five years – enough for 71,500 employees (typically, tech companies budget 140 square feet per worker). In May, I estimated that the company currently hosts 24,669 employees in Seattle, a bit below the current capacity of its existing 4.1 million square feet of office space. That means that Amazon’s building capacity to have 2.9 times the number of employees in Seattle than it currently has.
To get a sense of what Seattle may be like in five years, consider all the impacts on Seattle I wrote about in “Amageddon” and triple them – don’t worry, the next Bolt Bus to Portland probably still has space.
Traffic and Diversity Nightmares
The two things that most concern me about Amazon’s plans are its impact on Seattle traffic and on diversity:
1. Traffic: GeekWire reported that Amazon says “it needs developers to build 30 new residential buildings in and around downtown Seattle, with at least 200 units each.” Their hope may be that the majority of these new employees will be able to walk and bus to work but I find the scale of proposed growth shocking. Seattle currently has the fourth worst traffic in the nation and there is very little new transit planned to address much of the inner city core or east – west routes. The city and the state need to step up and revitalize Seattle transportation development now.
2. Gender: The best estimates I’ve found for Amazon’s gender ratio in technology hiring is 75% male via Payscale.com, which is also in line with Microsoft’s. Since Amazon refuses to disclose the gender makeup of its technology workforce, I trust this estimate more than Amazon’s 63% disclosure, which represents its massive worldwide workforce e.g. including warehouse workers. So, if you’re already concerned about Amazon’s impact on the gender ratio in Seattle, imagine what two more waves of this level of imbalance will do to the city.
Here’s how Amazon’s projected 2019 headcount would compare to today’s Microsoft and Boeing, which are no longer rapidly expanding:
Is This an Amazon Bubble?
Certainly, Amazon could build out the office space capacity and not fill it within five years. The company has a huge backlog of open job positions in Seattle and can’t seem to find people to hire quickly enough. But, given the company is currently under fire for its prolonged failure to turn a profit, one must wonder for how much longer its shareholders will tolerate this rate of expansion.
One future for Seattle is that Amazon succeeds and the city resembles San Francisco. An overabundance of wealthy white males and a colossal traffic mess. Another possibility is a plethora of empty office towers and bankrupt developers that cast an economic shadow of gloom over the city for decades. The former is probably more likely – but it’s clear that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train of growth which Seattle is ill-prepared for.