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What’s New in Civic Tech: Amazon Seeks Proposals for Where to Build Its Second North American HQ

Plus, Grand Rapids, Mich., shares wide-spanning tech progress update, and Baton Rouge, La., Launches GiS Web map to monitor heavy rainfall.

Amazon is looking to city governments and regional economic development organizations for proposals on where to build its second North America headquarters. Launching its search with an online announcement, the company expects to invest $5 billion and create as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.

Amazon has also posted online the relevant Request for Proposal documents, and it has encouraged interested parties to start bids by emailing the relevant team at To put the value of a procuring the Amazon HQ in perspective, the company notes that its first location in Seattle resulted in a $38 million boost to that city’s economy while operating from 2010 to 2016, and that every dollar Amazon invested in Seattle generated $1.40 in return.

So what exactly is the company looking for in a new home?

“Amazon HQ2 will be the second Amazon headquarters in North America,” the announcement reads. “We are looking for a location with strong local and regional talent — particularly in software development and related fields — as well as a stable and business-friendly environment to continue hiring and innovating on behalf of our customers.”

Amazon has turned Seattle into America’s biggest company town, where the online-retail giant occupies 19 percent of the prime office space, which ranks as the most for any employer in a major U.S. city, according to an analysis conducted for The Seattle Times. That means that Amazon’s presence in Seattle is more than twice that of any other company in another major city. 

Grand Rapids, Mich., Shares Wide-Spanning Tech Progress

A major tech overhaul has been underway in Grand Rapids, Mich., and now the city is reporting that those efforts are yielding results.

Becky Jo Glover, the 311 customer service center manager for Grand Rapids, recently worked to redesign the city’s website with the help of a civic user testing group made up of more than 300 residents, and she shared a report about the city’s wider tech progress this week, which includes:

  • The launch of 57 new digital services, 89 percent of which did not have a pre-existing online form
  • A single portal in which residents can pay water, trash, parking tickets, and property tax
  • Ongoing civic user testing
Glover also said she does not expect the progress to stop there. In the coming weeks, Grand Rapids will launch My Neighborhood, an online platform where residents will be able to enter their addresses and see geographically relevant events, parks, recycling pickup days, who their city commissioners are and more. Future plans call for the portal to also add data about schools, libraries, crime and construction.

The city is also working to write new online content for its most requested services, creating centralized locations that make it easy to disseminate information and for constituents to learn about starting and running local businesses, or commercial building projects.

Grand Rapids' end goal is one it shares with many city governments investing in such tech: to make government more efficient. To that end, Glover reports that some of the city’s new measures have reduced the service burden on city hall. 

Baton Rouge, La., Launches GIS Web Map to Monitor Heavy Rainfall

As a second potentially catastrophic hurricane barrels through the Caribbean toward Florida and the United States’ southeastern coast, another city in an area often imperiled by heavy rains has turned to gov tech to bolster its preparation efforts for storms.

Baton Rouge is launching a Web mapping application that allows city officials to monitor U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stream gauge data every hour during weather events. With multi-colored dots that represent each stream gauge, responders can see how high water levels are in that area at a given time. This allows city officials to direct response resources to where they are most needed.

Baton Rouge announced the launch of this platform via a Facebook post. The map, which is live now, was built in collaboration with the city’s Department of Information Services’ GIS Division.   

“Through this monitoring, we are able to very quickly identify which gauges are rising and which are falling, as well as the watershed in which each gauge is located, which we can then use to inform real-time emergency response efforts where flooding may be occurring or at risk of occurring soon,” the city wrote in its Facebook post. “This data also becomes information that our Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness can share regularly with our partner agencies and contribute to our entire region’s ability to monitor and respond to heavy rainfall, hurricane or other weather events.”

Tech played a role in informing Houston residents about flooding as Hurricane Harvey approached, and tech is also expected to aid in recovery efforts. Baton Rouge’s work is part of a trend of jurisdictions increasingly turning to tech in the face of monster storms.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.