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What we can learn from Google’s approach to real estate

Amazon has made a lot of news in recent months about opening a new campus. It eventually picked both Arlington, Virginia as well as the Queens’ neighborhood of Long Island City in New York City, which will a large new campus for 25,000 employees. Google, on the other hand, started with a single employee in Manhattan and has grown to 7,000 in the Chelsea neighborhood.

Incentives vs. slow growth

Many will recall how Amazon went city to city with its hand out for financial incentives that eventually amounted to $3 billion. Amazon made it a competition and let the cities and states duke it out.

It is hard to imagine Google as growing slowly, but a spokesperson told the New York Times that the company “was growing steadily over the last 18 years without heralding trumpets, or asking for support from the government.” Google has gotten some heat for accusations of not spending enough in the community – and annoying restaurants by providing free food to employees on the premises. However, not all is what it seems.

Giving to the community

Google has made overtures into the community, helping a non-profit with tech issues, donating $150,000 and providing meeting space. It has also been supportive in the High Line greenway built through Chelsea on a decommissioned elevated train track. Chelsea has traditionally been a hub for gay culture, and while Google has pushed out some because the neighborhood is now home to a large number of employees with a substantial income, the search engine giant has contributed to the preservation of the Stonewall Inn, which is where the gay rights movement first took hold.

What Austin can learn

Austin has its own tech giants and real estate issues that are not very different from those playing out in New York. While Amazon tries to find its rhythm, Google continues to become part of the fabric of the neighborhood as owners of two iconic buildings and a multi-billion real estate portfolio. Some complain that Google is altering the culture of Chelsea, the change is everywhere in the city and could have been much more painful.

Those looking to make a positive impact here in Austin need to consider many of the same issues as Google and Amazon. Working with real estate attorneys who understand the local ordinances and the real estate market can help companies to find the right fit for becoming a part of a community culturally and economically.

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William T. Peckham
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