After months of anticipation, Amazon last month announced it would split its second headquarters between New York City and Northern Virginia, boasting a $5 billion investment and as many as 50,000 jobs between the two locations. The competition was strong, with more than 230 cities vying to be chosen, and when the announcement finally came, it incited strong reactions from each area’s residents.
In particular, school district leaders and other stakeholders have thoughts on what HQ2 means for education in their cities. Some are optimistic, citing more money pouring into local ventures, more jobs and more opportunities for STEM education for students and teachers.
But not everyone in the two K-12 communities is excited about Amazon’s arrival. Some are concerned about the potential for the new headquarters to overpopulate classrooms and make these locations even more unaffordable for teachers and staff.
When it comes to education, Amazon HQ2 is a potential mixed bag for New York’s Long Island City neighborhood and Virginia’s National Landing, which includes parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City and the Potomac Yard neighborhood in the city of Alexandria. Based on officials’ conjectures, here’s a list of the good, the bad and the bottom line.
Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke said last year that, in choosing a city, prioritizing STEM education and computer science, particularly in public schools, was crucial to the company’s decision, GeekWire reported.
And it did just that. Ahead of the HQ2 pick, Alexandria built a STEM-focused elementary school designed to emphasize technology and blended learning in the classroom. The tech company, which has invested in STEM education organizations like Code.org, is likely to influence surrounding schools to increase their focus on these subjects.
For higher ed institutions in Northern Virginia, it already has. George Mason University announced shortly after the HQ2 picks were public that it would expand its satellite campuses, as well as add more instructors, facilities and computer science courses, CNN reported. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also said in a speech that the commonwealth would invest $25 million over 20 years for initiatives including new curricula and after-school programs.
High school internships
Amazon also announced it would make internships and "career exploration activities" — along with mock interviews, site visits, career days and other opportunities — available to high school students with HQ2, The New York Business Journal reported.
Giving high-schoolers the opportunity to do internships, especially at a top-tier Fortune 500 company, will provide a chance for students to see what they might be interested in before they set off for college. Plus, getting real-world experiences alongside professionals and experts lets students test and refine their abilities, showing them that what they learn in the classroom is for more than just a grade.
Career and technical education
Amazon’s HQ2 also paves the way for potential career and technical education (CTE) opportunities. Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. is among the school leaders hopeful for such a partnership, telling The Washington Post that “it’s kind of like the perfect match.”
Other officials, the Post notes, also hope for a possible pipeline to jobs at the company.
CTE initiatives, which include career pathway programs and apprenticeships, can’t be very effective unless students aren’t trying tasks in a real-world environment, and with Amazon right around the corner, students will have the ability to practice a plethora of technical skills in computer science, engineering and business, just to name a few areas.
Education gains doesn’t stop with students. Virginia's pitch to Amazon included $1 billion for Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus, a 1 million-square-foot graduate campus located less than two miles from the new HQ2. School employees will have training and professional development opportunities at the campus, and Northam also said, as part of the state's $25 million investment, teachers would get ongoing PD opportunities.
Time and again, it’s been proven that PD is integral to an effective educational experience, for students and teachers alike. In particular, training teachers in STEM fields is said to be helpful in sparking students’ interest in these subject areas.
If Amazon adds some 25,000 jobs to each location, as it’s stated, it’s likely that many employees will be parents of school-aged children who attend a school close by.
For Long Island City's Amazon employees, that could mean one of the many schools that make up the nation’s largest district. In Virginian, that could mean a school in Arlington or Fairfax counties or in the city of Alexandria, or in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland . And this influx of students, some argue, is one that schools in these places can’t handle.
K-8 schools in the Long Island City neighborhood are already over capacity, and surrounding areas like Queens face similar issues, Chalkbeat reported. In the D.C. area, dozens of schools also are struggling with overcrowding, with leaders creating makeshift classrooms to accommodate more students, The Washington Post notes.
Amazon said it would give space for a middle school in New York City. But Meghan Cirrito, a member of a Long Island City education advocacy group, told Chalkbeat, HQ2 “will absolutely not relieve the overcrowding,” adding, “We’re already behind school seats.”
Rising rents and home prices
Before Amazon was founded in Seattle in 1994, the city didn’t have significantly high residential rents or living costs. But today, Forbes reported, it’s one of the priciest housing markets in the nation with a median home price of nearly $740,000 and median monthly rent of nearly $2,500.
Alison Eisinger, executive director of a Seattle homelessness nonprofit, told MarketWatch, “Amazon certainly contributed to the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, and the affordable housing shortage in turn absolutely contributed to the homelessness crisis in our community.”
Using Seattle as a prediction vehicle, Amazon’s settling in New York City and Northern Virginia is bound to jack up rents and other costs, at least to some degree, in the surrounding areas. The greater Washington, D.C., area, along with New York City and Long Island, are some of the most expensive places to buy a home across the U.S. And Amazon is only going to make them more pricey.
New York City residents opposed to HQ2 cited more homelessness as one of their concerns. A Zillow senior economist said HQ2 could lead to 830 additional people in New York and more than a dozen additional people in D.C. becoming homeless each year, MarketWatch reported.
More displaced people could mean more student homelessness. In New York’s public schools, homelessness already is at an all-time high.
Rising house prices and rents also means a growing number of teachers who can't afford to live where they teach , which could lead them to leave their jobs as a result.
Overwhelmed public transit systems
The greater New York City and Washington, D.C., areas are plagued with heavy traffic and congestion. Now, picture adding up to 50,000 more people to the mix.
The Washington Post reported that Amazon is encouraging its H2Q workers to commute by walking or biking or taking public transit because the Northern Virginia facility is expected to have just one parking space for every six employees.
But more residents inevitably means more vehicles and more traffic.
In May, the Metropolitan Transit Authority unveiled a $37 million plan to revamp New York’s “fragile” subway system, Business Insider reported. But it’s unclear who’s going to fund it.
Virginia is investing $195 million in infrastructure near the new HQ2, including two Metro subway stations, a pedestrian bridge connecting National Landing — and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and road improvements.
Washington, D.C., is ranked the sixth-most congested city for drivers, with people spending some 63 hours a year stuck in traffic. As a result of HQ2, students and teachers could be commuting to and from school for even longer periods of time than they do now.
The bottom line
We've seen cities across the U.S. undergo significant changes in the face of major companies settling in their quarters: Seattle with Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft; Dallas-Forth Worth with companies like AT&T, ExxonMobil and Southwest Airlines; and Silicon Valley, which is a global capital for high-tech businesses and innovators.
Hundreds of cities asked Amazon to consider them in deciding HQ2's location; 20 were finalists and two cities got their wish. Amazon is sure to bring benefits to Long Island City and Arlington, as well as the school communities in and around these areas. Tech is a booming field, and a company as big as Amazon places greater emphasis on STEM as it surges in demand from employers. But, as Seattle demonstrates, big companies don’t always have positive impacts, and school communities need to be aware of both edges of the sword.