A conversation with Amazon at Mason

George Mason University hosted a community dialogue with Amazon on its Arlington Campus on Thursday, providing a window into the tech giant’s plans for its new headquarters in Northern Virginia.

The intimate, 90-minute meeting with the company gave more than 100 community stakeholders an opportunity to pose questions about Amazon’s plans and impact on the region. Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development, was the featured speaker on a panel that included Jeanette Chapman, deputy director and senior research associate at Mason’s Stephen F. Fuller Institute at the Schar School of Policy and Government; Victor Hoskins, Arlington’s economic development director; Andrew VanHorn, executive vice president of developer JBG Smith; and Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Chuck Bean, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments—which hosted the event—served as the moderator.

Mason President Ángel Cabrera kicked off the event by saying the move to Crystal City, Virginia, would be a boon to the entire region.

“I think there’s a match that was meant to happen,” he said. “The most interesting and vibrant hubs in the world—not just in the U.S., but around the world—increasingly are characterized by symbiosis between top-level research universities and innovation-driven organizations. There would be no Silicon Valley without that symbiosis; there would be no Seattle, Washington, without symbiosis. There would be no Zurich or no Austin.”

Amazon chose Crystal City and New York City from among 20 finalists after a national search for a second corporate headquarters that drew bids from 238 localities. The Seattle-based company recently announced it was abandoning its plans for New York City after running into strong political opposition.

Amazon is expected to bring more than 25,000 high-paying jobs to the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, and Mason is poised to play a prominent role in establishing that talent pipeline.

Sullivan credited the region’s abundance of top-tier universities as among the deciding factors in Amazon’s decision.

“This is a location and a region that has top-ranked universities with an excellent public education system,” she said. “That gives us an opportunity to work with other companies to build a really robust talent pipeline.”

Chapman added that the type of jobs being created makes the partnership especially appealing.

“They’re private-sector jobs,” she said. “They’re not dependent on the federal government, and they’re high-value adds.”

Panelists specifically cited Mason’s ADVANCE partnership with Northern Virginia Community College as the type of program needed to make sure that opportunities become available to everybody.

“To me, that is an incredible opportunity,” Hoskins said.

Other topics included

  • incentives and project benefits for the region;
  • Amazon’s plans for integrating into the community;
  • headquarters site development; and
  • hiring and workforce development.


Mason plans to invest $250 million in its Arlington Campus over the next five years, adding 1,000 faculty members and enlarging the campus to 1.2 million square feet. That expansion will include more computing programs and advanced research in high-tech fields. The number of students enrolled in computing majors is expected to more than double to 15,000 by 2024.

“I think there’s no doubt this region is on its way to becoming one of those iconic hubs of innovation in the world,” Cabrera said.

To watch “A Regional Conversation with Amazon” in its entirety, click here.