When people think of working for Amazon, naturally they think of its landmark headquarters in Seattle. But Seattle isn’t for everyone—take Katie Oaks, senior human resources business partner for Amazon Web Services, who’s lived in Colorado most of her life. When she joined the company in the summer of 2017, she made it clear she wanted to stay in Denver. Why? She quickly ticks off a list of reasons.
“You can ski, you can golf, you can hike. We have 300 days of sunshine, and you can experience all four seasons. It’s a beautiful place to live,” Oaks says. “And as the tech community and Denver’s city center continue to expand, I don't see any reason to leave."
Oaks certainly isn’t alone, which is why the number of employees at Amazon’s Denver Tech Hub has soared from about 25 people in 2016 to more than 350 today. Along with opportunities for recreation, the Denver area boasts several universities with excellent engineering programs that feed a thriving professional community, making it an obvious location choice for Amazon.
Denver is one of 17 Tech Hubs Amazon has opened across North America in the past few years. With so many advanced technologies being developed—from voice computing with Alexa to robotics and delivery logistics—the company expanded its search for talent to areas with a high concentration of universities, diverse and highly skilled workforces, and a dynamic quality of life.
These hubs aren’t satellite offices, but centers of innovation that are integral parts of Amazon’s mission to delight customers. Together, they have more than 20,000 employees and continue to provide opportunities in cities such as Austin, Boston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Detroit, Vancouver, and Toronto.
Expansion with a purpose
Amazon's footprint in Washington has grown markedly since it was founded out of Jeff Bezos' Bellevue garage in 1994. The company moved into Beacon Hill's Pac Med building in 1998; a decade later, construction started on the current South Lake Union campus. Today, more than 45,000 people work out of the Seattle headquarters, which occupies more than 40 office buildings.
But as recently as five years ago, the company's presence outside Seattle was relatively modest. Craig Jones, director of global real estate for the Americas, says when he joined Amazon in January of 2014, its office space beyond South Lake Union amounted to less than 2 million square feet. That was changing fast.
"The first week I got here, I was on a plane to Dallas and Austin to put two deals together," Jones says. "Things just took off from there." Amazon's corporate space across North America has nearly quadrupled since then.
Once there's a need for space outside of Amazon’s Seattle and Arlington headquarters, it's Jones' job to find the right building, balancing a considerable wish list. The space should accommodate about three to five years of growth, have nearby amenities like restaurants and public transit, and offer a reasonable commute from popular neighborhoods. And if the landlord will allow dogs, that's great too.
The space also can't be the "shiny penny" in a city, meaning the highest floor in the fanciest building.
"Frugality is one of our leadership principles, we would rather invest this money in continuing to innovate for our customers" Jones says. "We look for a quality property with a quality landlord."