Apple Skips the Amazon HQ2 Craziness

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- What Tim Cook’s company announced on Thursday is not Apple’s HQ2 — for better and for worse.

Apple Inc.’s plans to expand its workforce in Austin, Texas, and several other U.S. cities has similarities to and important differences from Amazon.com Inc.’s own hunt for an additional home base. Apple deserves praise for how it handled itself — albeit with some caveats.

Amazon, of course, conducted a year-long search for a place to put what it billed as a co-equal second headquarters. The effort had all the sharp elbows and overheated drama of “The Bachelor,” if that reality-television series also involved negotiations for billions of dollars in government tax breaks and other incentives. (An idea for the TV show’s producers, perhaps.)

Apple Skips the Amazon HQ2 Craziness

Apple announced its search at the beginning of 2018 for a new Apple office location, saying initially it was for workers who do technical support for its customers but indicated on Thursday it could ultimately be for a broader array of jobs. The company said little since then about its hunt, in contrast to Amazon and its multiple rounds of publicity-seeking for what it called HQ2.

Yes, Apple will receive tax breaks and other goodies from Texas, but it’s nowhere near the scale of Amazon’s more than $2 billion in local and state incentives related to its expansion in New York City and Arlington, Virginia.

On the other hand, what Apple is doing isn’t on the scale of Amazon, which has said it will add up to 50,000 workers across its two new office projects, although the hiring will take place over a long period. Apple said on Thursday that it would initially nearly double the number of people it employs in Austin, now home to 6,200 Apple workers. The company said a new facility it plans to build in Austin would have “the capacity to grow to 15,000.” It also said it would expand to more than 1,000 employees in each of three other cities.

That number of new jobs is relatively modest compared with Amazon’s not-really-HQ2 project and Apple’s size. In its disclosures, Apple said it had added about 6,000 jobs in the U.S. this year to about 90,000. That 7 percent increase in U.S. employees was far shy of Apple’s 16 percent jump in revenue in its fiscal year ended Sept. 29. It’s also about the same as the percentage gain in Microsoft Corp.’s full-time U.S. workforce over a similar period, and the software company didn’t pat itself on the back for its effort.

Apple reiterated its early 2018 stance on creating 20,000 positions in the U.S. by 2023. That rate of about 4,000 jobs a year is about even or slower than Apple’s recent pace of U.S. hiring and roughly the same as the company’s expected rate of revenue growth in the next few years. No congratulations are needed. The volume of U.S. jobs about which Apple is boasting isn’t a hiring spree motivated by civic duty or a desire to mollify a job-obsessed U.S. president. This is business as usual.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Shira Ovide is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. She previously was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

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