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At Two-Year Mark, Amazon Says HQ2 is On Track for Construction and Hiring Goals

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On the second anniversary of Amazon choosing Arlington for its HQ2, Vice President of Public Policy for Amazon Brian Huseman is celebrating the project staying the course.

Huseman spoke with ARLnow about the goals of the celebration, Amazon’s local charitable contributions, the progress the company is making toward its hiring goals, construction deadlines, and the impact of the coronavirus on work.

“We want to convey that we’re on-track and on-target to hire the employees and we want to convey that we’re deeply invested in the community,” Huseman said. “We want to be a good neighbor and contribute to community organizations as much as we can during these challenging times.”

Despite the pandemic, Phase One of construction — on the Metropolitan Park development site in Pentagon City — continues on-schedule, Huseman said. In this phase, a block of warehouses were torn down and two Amazon towers totalling 2.1 million square feet are being built in its place.

Amazon is also funding the $14 million renovation of Metropolitan Park, adjacent to the first HQ2 phase.

Both Phase One and the park are expected to be completed in 2023, when Amazon expects to open its complex. Until then, it is leasing several temporary office spaces in Crystal City.

The second phase of HQ2 should be ready to present to the community and go through the county’s approval process starting in 2021, Huseman said. That phase is expected to include several million additional square feet at the PenPlace development site, one block down from the first phase along S. Eads Street. Amazon recently bought a hotel on the PenPlace block, with plans to tear it down.

Amazon reached the 1,000-employee mark earlier this year, hiring first in Human Resources, Recruiting and Finance. It has 500 open roles currently, Huseman said, and plans to continue its hiring spree for the foreseeable future.

“We’re on-track to meet 25,000 hires over next decade,” he said.

Amazon is sticking to that number even as it grows in Bellevue, Washington, which some have speculated is becoming the “real HQ2.” In September, Amazon announced it would be increasing the number of hires from 15,000 to 25,000 in the city, not far from the company’s Seattle headquarters.

Huseman dismissed the speculation that Bellevue would be supplanting Arlington.

“We have a presence in the Puget Sound region,” he said. “We are growing there, but the key here is that we promised 25,000 jobs and we’re on target for that. That’s what we’re going to deliver.”

And employees at HQ2 will be doing a “whole range of things” from web services to retail. The Vice President of Alexa International, Rob Pulciani, was one of the first executives to transfer to HQ2 with his team to build “the next generation of Alexa services,” Huseman said.

“Whatever Amazon does, you’ve got people at HQ2 doing that,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Amazon employees can work from home until June 2021. Most are opting to stay home but the offices are open with temperature checks, frequent disinfecting and social distancing in place. Candidates are interviewing remotely.

“Working from home is pretty effective and collaborative,” Huseman said. “We are able to communicate with video-conferencing and channels that we have with teams across the country.”

On Monday, Amazon announced $9 million in contributions to nonprofits and community organizations in Arlington County, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The announcement comes a week after celebrating its second anniversary of choosing Arlington and Long Island City for its second headquarters — although it pulled out of New York City shortly after.

The celebrations also included a closed tour with Virginia policymakers of “WAS16,” the company’s most recent leased corporate office in Crystal City.

On the donations, Huseman said Amazon is going to “continue to listen to our neighbors about how we can best contribute” to the community.

So far, the following Arlington nonprofits received donations:

  • Legal Services of Northern Virginia
  • Bridges to Independence
  • Offender Aid and Restoration
  • Arlington Branch NAACP Scholarship Program
  • Arlington Free Clinic
  • Virginia Hospital Center
  • La Cocina VA

A $750,000 donation to Legal Services of Northern Virginia will “have such a deep and immediate impact” and will allow the hiring of more lawyers, said Jim Ferguson, the organization’s executive director.

Bridges to Independence will put the donation toward its COVID-19 relief fund, which aids families living under the poverty line who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, said CEO Samuel L. Kelly, Jr. in a statement.

La Cocina VA Founder and CEO Paty Funegra said in a statement the money came just in time to help entrepreneurs of color learn to run successful food-related businesses and support their families.

Arlington Free Clinic said it has received $250,000 and will use the contribution “to continue serving those in our community who need us the most” during the pandemic.

Amazon received incentive packages from the county and the state as part of its agreement to come to Arlington. The county’s incentive package included a 15-year, estimated tax $23 million incentive if Amazon meets office space occupancy goals over the years.

Huseman lauded the company’s interactions so far with Arlington County, calling it a “business-friendly district” that has been “flexible and nimble” during the pandemic.

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