“Very disappointed,” said the Bay Area Council, which had submitted a bid on behalf of San Francisco and four neighboring cities.
Amazon’s obsessive desire to please its customers has created a fearsome retail juggernaut and made its founder, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. This sense of disappointment in the company, however transient it may prove, is something new.
Yet it was perhaps inevitable after the way Amazon turned its search for a second headquarters, which it announced in a blaze of publicity in September, into such a beauty contest. Even with unemployment low, the stock market booming and the economy chugging along, the prospect of landing as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs from Amazon aroused the excitement of politicians everywhere.
“When they rolled this idea out, the narrow description they used really only defined about 30 cities,” said Mr. Phillips of Day 1, referring to how Amazon had said it was looking for a metropolitan area in North America with at least a million people, among other criteria. “Maybe they truly thought only 30 cities would apply. The fact that 238 did probably caught them off-guard.”
Scarborough, for instance, was probably not on Amazon’s radar. It is on the Northeast coast, just south of Portland, and has a population of about 20,000. The simplicity of the application process, which involved answering nine questions, providing data and touting the city, “encouraged us and several hundred others who did not have a viable chance to make the strongest possible argument why it should be us,” said Mr. Hall, the town manager. “There’s value in thinking and articulating that.”
Another factor at play: the sense that Amazon was determined to achieve dominance, so why not join up?
“This new headquarters is merely a stop on their road to global conquest,” Mr. Hall said. He noted that so many people in Scarborough received goodies from Amazon during the holidays that even now, in the third week of January, the local recycling center was overwhelmed with cardboard packaging.
Mr. Hall said he had received “no word whatsoever” from Amazon about the fate of his application. An Amazon spokesman said, “All the cities received direct communication from Amazon, including many personal phone calls.” (Late Thursday, the Scarborough team finally received an email from the company.)
Many of the other also-rans did not want to talk.
Jason Lary, the mayor of Stonecrest, Ga., who had offered to create a town named Amazon and make Mr. Bezos “the mayor, C.E.O., king, whatever they want to call it,” did not return calls. A spokeswoman for Tucson, which had also applied, said, “We are in an all-day off-site meeting,” adding that she could not be interviewed.
Business leaders in Tucson had tried to mail Amazon a 21-foot cactus, which the company declined. The mayor of Washington posted a video of herself asking her Amazon Alexa where the headquarters should go. (The answer was of course Washington.) Business school students in Philadelphia had a new homework assignment: Write to Amazon asking it to come. Mayors flew out to Seattle to wander the corporate campus.
The biggest winner in all this, of course, was Amazon. The search has led to feel-good stories in local papers around the country, a coup for Amazon’s public relations machine when many are wary of Mr. Bezos’ growing wealth and power.
For Art Rolnick, an economist at the University of Minnesota, the selection process — which will continue for months — is “reality show” theatrics and should not be celebrated, he said.
Amazon, he said, “wants to get the highest bid and highest subsidy possible, so now the 20 finalist cities will go revise their bids.”