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How Big Tech Swallowed Seattle

Two tech titans made billions and remade the city. Is it any better off?
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Photographer: Sasha Arutyunova for Bloomberg Businessweek

In late September a group of businessmen and economic development officials from Michigan made a sort of urban pilgrimage to downtown Seattle. They walked the streets, starting at the three spherical glass buildings that recently opened as part of the headquarters of Inc. Their goal: to learn how the company had transformed the city. “We didn’t feel like there was any other way for us to get a sense of what makes Seattle special without actually going there and seeing it firsthand,” says Cory Tincher, director for special projects at Rock Ventures LLC, who made the trip.

The reconnaissance was part of an effort by Detroit to land Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2 for short. Weeks earlier the company had asked for pitches from cities in North America interested in hosting a campus with enough room for 50,000 employees. This, predictably, set off a frenzy, pitting New York, Austin, and other locales with well-established technology sectors against long shots such as Vallejo, Calif. It also put a spotlight on Seattle, where Amazon remade a previously out-of-favor neighborhood, South Lake Union, into a home for its swelling workforce.