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Developers, Property Brokers to Seek Amazon HQ2 Clues in Bezos Talk

Founder of Online Retailer to Address Economic Club of Washington
September 13, 2018
It took four years for the Economic Club of Washington to confirm one of their most desired speakers: Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of online retailer Amazon and owner of The Washington Post. But when he addresses the audience in the nation's capital Thursday evening, the crowd may be focused more on what he says about real estate than running the largest retailer or the influential daily newspaper.

That’s because Amazon is preparing to announce at any time in the next 15 weeks the location of its second headquarters, known as HQ2, that the Seattle-based company said will bring 50,000 employees and $5 billion in capital spending to the winning city. Amazon, which outlined plans for HQ2 a year ago, plans to choose from among 20 cities on its culled list, and the Washington, D.C., area has three locations on it - more than any other competitor.

The D.C. area’s three contenders, Northern Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the District itself, are one reason the audience for the Economic Club’s Milestone Celebration is likely to be filled with real estate executives and watchers. Several commercial real estate firms, investors and contractors are sponsoring the event and are slated to attend.

 Read More CoStar Amazon HQ2 Coverage 

JBG Smith, a Chevy Chase, Maryland-based REIT, is part of the Washington Housing Initiative, the event’s title sponsors. Global commercial real estate services firm CBRE is a tribute sponsor along with Cafferty Commercial Real Estate Services, Clark Enterprises Inc., Donohoe Cos. and Rand Construction Corp.

At the event to celebrate the Economic Club’s 32 years of existence, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private equity giant Carlyle Group is scheduled to interview Bezos in a fireside-chat style session. He has said he will ask about where HQ2 will land, but there’s no guarantee the Amazon founder will provide any definitive answers.

Also, it’s Bezos’ choice whether to participate in facing questions from the media after the event. Organizers said he probably will decide not to do so. Still, the opportunity to hear from Bezos amid the excitement created by Amazon’s second headquarters search has created quite a buzz in Washington’s business and political circles.

The Economic Club, founded in 1986, is a nonprofit group aimed at strengthening the ties between the Washington area’s diverse business community, and more recently, with its diplomatic community. It began pursuing Bezos about the same time he paid the Graham family $250 million in cash for The Post in 2013.

"We’ve been waiting for four years to get Jeff Bezos," Economic Club Executive Director Mary Brady said. "We were getting yeses, but no dates. Three months ago, we got the call to set a date." The call came from former White House press secretary Jay Carney, whom Amazon hired in 2015 to be senior vice president of global affairs, reporting to Bezos himself.

Several top D.C. region elected officials, including Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, are slated to attend.

The event, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with a reception at the Washington Hilton, is expected to be attended by nearly 1,600 members of the Economic Club and their guests.

Rubenstein has interviewed the biggest names in business, including Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and Chief Executive Warren Buffett, as well as several heads of state. So, he’s prepared to lead the talk with the executive estimated to be the world's richest man.

Rubenstein will "cover all topics," and ask personal questions to help "get a sense" of Bezos and how he conceived the business idea and plan for Amazon. As for questions about HQ2, Brady said Rubenstein won’t shy away from those. "Everyone knows how David operates. He doesn’t fool around," she said.

Brady said having Bezos as the Milestone Celebration’s highlight has resulted in a lot of interest from its members and outsiders, and this helps the group achieve its goals of raising awareness and adding members. "The sponsors have all sent in their names [of people sitting at their tables], which almost never happens," Brady said. "They’re taking this very seriously."

In addition to the conversation with Bezos, the event will celebrate the club's scholarship winners, a handful of whom will be in attendance. When Rubenstein took over as president 10 years ago, he privately funded a scholarship program for students in the Washington, D.C., school system. In 2018, 48 students were selected as to receive David M. Rubenstein/Economic Club of Washington scholarships. Before the dinner Thursday, five additional students will receive a $20,000 scholarship, from proceeds from the Milestone Celebration.

Additional proceeds from the event will be used to award donations of $50,000 each to 10 nonprofit organizations that serve youth in the D.C. metropolitan region. The nonprofit groups receiving the funding include Attendance Counts, which seeks to address chronic absenteeism in D.C. Public Schools; Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Internship Program that prepares college students and young professionals to become leaders and policy analysts; and Teach for America’s D.C. Region, which builds clusters of educators in schools impacted by educational in equality.
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