Apple's new headquarters will not look like Amazon's. Photo courtesy City of Cupertino.

Apple’s new headquarters will not look like Amazon’s. Photo courtesy City of Cupertino.

This week, Amazon gave a glimpse of its new South Lake Union offices. The company’s transformative effect on the neighborhood is well known, but less discussed is the way the Seattle firm is reshaping the way companies think about how to design and where to locate headquarters.

Most tech giants don’t reside in 500-foot skyscrapers. Instead, the most innovative companies in the world opt for suburban office campuses that were popularized in the 1950s. Google and Microsoft have expansive suburban campuses. Apple, like Amazon, is building a new headquarters, but unlike Amazon is doing so far from an urban center.

In the arms race for top employees, offices are seen as major recruiting perks. A campus on the fringe of a city can seem appealing; it gives the company complete control over the layout and design of a space. But Amazon’s approach may better speak to what stereotypical young software developers want in a workplace. Take its food policy. Many tech firms offer free food to keep employees in the office, but Amazon doesn’t subsidize its cafeterias, which sends its employees to the streets and independent businesses of South Lake Union for meals.

Most tech campuses try to make the office a city in itself, but Amazon’s offices instead incorporate the city around them.

An under-discussed middle-class engine

A big reason Boeing receives huge tax breaks is because it employs 80,000 Washingtonians, and the jobs it supplies bolster the state’s middle class. But there’s another huge supplier of middle-class jobs in the state, and this one gets the short end of the tax-break stick: the state government.

Many link the demise of manufacturing to the demise of the U.S. middle class, but as The New York Times explains, shrinking government employment can have a more detrimental impact than losing private-sector jobs. Government jobs routinely offer stable pay, union representation, and paths for advancement, all of which are becoming increasingly rare in a private sector that has failed the middle class. Decreased tax revenues following the Great Recession led to cuts among many government ranks, and conservative politics have further trimmed the headcount since.

Washington’s not immune: In 2008, 66,714 people worked for the state. Last year, that number was 61,294.

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