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All for one and one for all in Washington DC area's quest for HQ2

Washington

AMAZON'S search for a suitable site to build the equivalent of three Empire State Buildings for its second corporate headquarters has triggered heated competition among the 20 localities the company has identified as finalists, with some salutary byproducts.

In the Washington, DC, area, home to three of the 20 contenders - the District and its close-in suburban neighbours, northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland - the sweepstakes helped produce a long-discussed but widely unexpected agreement among the two states and the city to juice their collective subsidy for the beleaguered Metro system by US$500 million annually.

Now comes word that the spirit of cooperation among the region's three top elected officials vying for the Amazon bonanza, known as HQ2 - DC mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia governor Ralph Northam and Maryland governor Larry Hogan - has gone even further.

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In a March letter to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, the trio presented a united front. "We recognise that if one of our jurisdictions earns the honour of being selected for HQ2, we all win," wrote the three. "We are partners, dedicated to shaping a better future for our Greater Washington region."

That sounds like a truism; it's not. The three neighbours, though separated by nothing more than an avenue or a river, often conduct themselves as strangers who, by the merest coincidence, happen to share a few major-league sports franchises, a transit system, a few-hundred-thousand daily commuters and a daily newspaper.

Perhaps slightly abashed by their newfound spirit of cooperation, neither the mayor nor either governor saw fit to release their letter when it was written.

It fell to WAMU 88.5 FM, Washington's public radio station, to ferret it out more than a month later.

Nonetheless, the fact that it was written at all - by two Democrats and a Republican (Mr Hogan) - recognises the plain truth that hitting the Amazon jackpot for any one of the jurisdictions would be a victory for all.

No doubt, the economic benefits - as well as the likely costs, including in traffic and housing prices - would accrue disproportionately to the winner.

It's also obvious that HQ2 would make such a splash - the company says it would entail US$5 billion in construction and 50,000 employees over a decade - that the waves would slosh over every adjacent border.

With the exception of Newark and New York City, which have not joined forces, none of the other 17 finalists for HQ2 lie within easy commuting distance of each other.

As for the other contenders, one-upmanship is the name of the game, including (and especially) in the corporate welfare packages they have dangled before Amazon.

The District, Maryland and Virginia are also playing the incentive game. Still, the written expression of partnership can only help the area's three finalists to make their case as one and, it is hoped, knit the region more tightly together. WP