Cities’ offers for Amazon base are secrets even to many city leaders

“We are not releasing documents related to Amazon HQ2. We are not subject to F.O.I.A.,” Michael Finney, the president and chief executive of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, a public-private partnership that handled the Amazon bid, said in an email. Similar requests to Austin, Atlanta and Indianapolis met with similar responses.

And when officials in Montgomery County, Md., did respond to a request for information on their bid, they delivered, among other items, a 10-page document of incentives — with every single line of text redacted.

Newark released its proposal only after a citizen filed a lawsuit, and officials in other places are fighting legal challenges. The mayor’s office of Chicago is pushing back against a transparency-seeking public advocacy group; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are challenging rulings by the state Office of Open Records that said the cities’ pitches should be made entirely public.

Companies are often stealthy when searching for a location for a critical factory or relocating a headquarters, as General Electric or Bechtel have done in recent years. And it has been reported that Apple has been holding behind-closed-doors meetings with government leaders as it shops for a new corporate campus.

It is also not unusual for states to offer up significant tax credits and incentives to attract businesses to their region. Tesla was wooed with as much as $1.3 billion in tax breaks and incentives to build its $5 billion lithium-ion battery cell factory outside of Reno, Nev., and Foxconn has received close to $4 billion in incentives to build its $10 billion megaplant in southeastern Wisconsin.

In the case of Amazon, it is the size and scope of its search that some officials find shocking — and galling.

“Typically, you see companies bid a couple of places against each other as they try to land a corporate deal,” said Brad Lander, a member of the New York City Council who has not seen the city’s proposal to Amazon. (New York is a finalist.) “This process is highly unusual. It creates a real race-to-the-bottom aspect with the potential of companies bidding multiple cities against one another.”

It is unclear how much promised tax credits and financial incentives will weigh into Amazon’s decision. Three of the first four questions Amazon asked cities to answer in their proposals were centered on incentives. But the e-commerce giant also sought information on possible building sites, the local labor force, transit options, computer science programs in local schools and cost-of-living data.

In what it did made public, Washington, D.C., pitched the idea of Amazon University, with a customized curriculum developed in partnership with Amazon and local universities. Boston, in its 218-page proposal, provided a sleek rendering of how Amazon’s second headquarters would look at Suffolk Downs, a former horse track in East Boston.

And Toronto’s pitch highlighted its high quality of life, including low crime rates and universal health care, and Canada’s progressive policies, including embracing same-sex marriage and remaining a signatory of the Paris Climate Accord. “We build doors, not walls,” the proposal said.

The cities see more at stake than just the jobs and investment that Amazon’s second headquarters would bring. Amazon says its presence and investment in Seattle have created an additional 53,000 jobs beyond its own direct hires and added $38 billion to Seattle’s economy from 2010 to 2016.

But there have also been serious downsides for the city. In a be-careful-of-what-you-ask-for address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors this summer, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle said that housing prices in her city average $824,000, that rents have soared 57 percent in the last five years and that there are 4,000 homeless people on the streets every night.

Those are the types of concerns raised by Ms. Pool, the Austin councilwoman. Ms. Pool said she thought her city lacked the infrastructure and housing to accommodate 50,000 high-paying jobs and that such fast growth would alter the city’s socioeconomic makeup and quality of life.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply