In a way, the two-headquarters story was too good to be true even when Amazon proclaimed it bluntly and at length. “Amazon HQ2 will be Amazon’s second headquarters in North America,” the company said in its promotional material. “We expect to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs — it will be a full equal to our current campus in Seattle.”
Instead, while nothing official has been announced and things could shift at the last minute, it appears HQ2 will rank with the company’s proclamation that drones would deliver packages. When the chief executive, Jeff Bezos, unveiled that initiative on “60 Minutes,” he said the drones would come in “four, five years.” That was almost exactly five years ago.
It gained something else as well.
“It’s tempting to roll your eyes at this soap opera, but Amazon will walk away from this stunt with a cache of incredibly valuable data,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a frequent Amazon critic. “It’s learned all kinds of things from the bidding cities — like their future infrastructure plans — that even their citizens are not privy to.”
Here’s what’s next, she said: “Amazon will put this data to prodigious use in the coming years as it looks to expand its market power and sideline the competition.”
Amazon is always expanding its market power. Consider a recent routine news release: “Amazon Announces 14th Inland Empire Fulfillment Center in Beaumont,” it said. Fulfillment center is a fancy term for warehouse. The Inland Empire is a vast area east of Los Angeles. To build 14 warehouses there in six years is a feat. Amazon said it was now the largest employer in the region.
Amazon likes to release news on its own schedule. But the headquarters story leaked to outlets including The Washington Post — owned by Mr. Bezos — and The Wall Street Journal. It was a rare stumble for a company that excels at controlling the narrative.
The real narrative, now and always with Amazon, is its ambition — sometimes veiled, sometimes overt, but never absent. The satirical site The Onion took the present to its logical extreme last month:
“After a search for a new location lasting more than a year, a massive dome was seen descending from the sky and enclosing the whole nation Friday as Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos announced to a horrified American populace that it was now living inside his company’s second headquarters.”