Amazon HQ in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon has surpassed 75,000 employees in the Seattle region, a new milestone that reflects the tech giant’s continued growth in its hometown over the past decade.

Amazon disclosed the new Seattle-area headcount Wednesday when it announced a $2 billion initiative to increase affordable housing in the Seattle, Arlington, and Nashville regions, where the company plans to continue adding thousands of jobs.

Though the announcement focused on Amazon’s plans to fund and preserve 20,000 affordable housing units across the three metros, it also reflected a subtle shift in the company’s growth strategy in the Seattle area.

Amazon’s first affordable housing investment in the region will be in Bellevue, Wash., not Seattle.

In recent years, Amazon’s relationship with the City of Seattle has grown fraught. The company has responded by doubling down on its growth in Bellevue, which has quickly become critical to Amazon’s regional growth plans moving forward.

Amazon is placing thousands of new jobs in Bellevue, Washington state’s fifth biggest city that sits just across Lake Washington from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and is a stone’s throw from Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

The company announced in September that it will hire an additional 10,000 people in Bellevue and plans to employ 25,000 there eventually — the same amount it expects to hire in Northern Virginia, or its “HQ2.” It also said it would donate $1 million to the City of Bellevue’s Human Services Fund.

In a blog post published in September, Amazon real estate chief John Schoettler called Bellevue “a growing, business-friendly community with great amenities, a high quality of life, and a fantastic talent pool.”

“We look forward to bringing more jobs to Bellevue — contributing to a regional growth strategy that can create opportunities for people across the Puget Sound,” Schoettler wrote.

A rendering of one of Amazon’s new buildings in Bellevue, the 555 Tower, a 42-story skyscraper with nearly 1 million square feet of office space and 28,400 square feet of retail space. (Vulcan Image)

Amazon did not confirm how many of its 75,000 employees in the region are based in Bellevue.

That number includes workers at the company’s headquarters around downtown Seattle and Bellevue, as well as three fulfillment centers, an airport hub, an R&D facility for its satellite initiative Project Kuiper, and more than 15 physical retail stores are included in the new headcount number.

Amazon employs another 5,000 people in Washington state beyond the Seattle region and recently surpassed Boeing as the state’s largest employer.

Amazon still has more than 7,300 job openings in Seattle but the company’s relationship with its hometown is complicated. Amazon has battled with the Seattle City Council over new business taxes targeting the company. During the last City Council election, Amazon spent a record $1.45 million to elect more business-friendly candidates, an effort that ultimately appeared to backfire.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos used to rave about the Seattle headquarters, calling it an environmentally-conscious location that captured “the energy and dynamism of an urban environment.” At the time, he said locating in the suburbs “would have been the wrong decision.”

But Amazon scarcely named Seattle in its housing announcement, referring instead to its “Puget Sound headquarters.”

Though it isn’t clear how much, if any, of the affordable housing funds will be directed toward Seattle, Amazon has historically focused its philanthropy in the city. Amazon built a homeless shelter at its Seattle campus in partnership with the non-profit Mary’s Place and donated retail space for restaurants operated by FareStart, a job-training organization. Amazon estimates the collective value of its contributions to Mary’s Place and FareStart — including annual rent — to be more than $130 million. And Bezos launched a $2 billion philanthropic initiative in 2018, with half of the funds earmarked for non-profits that help homeless families.

Amazon says it has invested more than $4.5 billion in Seattle since opening its first headquarters building in South Lake Union in 2010, including the creation of an additional 244,000 non-Amazon jobs.

While many small businesses have been forced to shutter due to the pandemic, Amazon has boomed as millions turned to its e-commerce and cloud computing services over the past year. The company set revenue records for the third quarter 2020 and it is expected to report its first $100 billion quarter for the holiday period. Its stock price is up 70% over the past year.

To support its growth, Amazon has been on a massive hiring spree, adding more than 400,000 positions in 2020 alone. Amazon now employs a whopping 1.13 million people worldwide, up 50% from last year.