Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ proposal likely to fetch bids from Atlanta, other cities


E-commerce giant Amazon said Thursday it’s in the market to build a second North American headquarters, a massive complex the company says one day could hold 50,000 jobs.

Amazon, in a request for proposals on its website, said it wants its “HQ2” to be the “equal” of its Seattle base of operations, which currently consists of 33 buildings covering more than 8 million square feet of office space. No doubt Georgia and Atlanta area officials will pitch for the project, and tout the region’s talent base and research universities such as Georgia Tech.

Amazon has corporate offices in metro Atlanta, as well as fulfillment centers for package delivery.  Whole Foods, the company’s recent acquisition, has several Atlanta area locations.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development said the agency would defer any comment to Amazon.

Still the announcement got Atlanta’s real estate and economic development circles buzzing.

Officials connected to state and local recruiting agencies said Amazon’s announcement came as a shock. Two said they expected practically every state and major city in the nation to at least respond to the RFP, with likely contenders being Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville and the Washington, D.C., area, to name just a few.

The Thursday morning announcement set off the largest corporate jobs recruitment bonanza in modern memory. It’s sure to ignite an incentives bidding war, and Amazon’s public launch of such a project sent a clear signal to governments across North America: Have your checkbooks ready.

Amazon asked governments to identify incentive programs such as tax credits, exemptions, grants for relocation and workforce and other cost reduction programs.

“The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers,” the document said.

Job recruitment is often a secretive business, but some companies have chosen of late to go public with their plans and, in effect, creating open bidding wars. Automakers Toyota and Mazda announced plans for a U.S. plant this year, and companies such as Tesla, Boeing and Archer Daniels Midland have made relocation or expansion plans public in recent years.

Corporate headquarters, particularly for such a massive company as Amazon, are coveted by lawmakers and business leaders for their quantity of high-paying jobs.

Amazon said it expects to invest more than $5 billion on HQ2 over a decade or more, and “in addition to Amazon’s direct hiring and investment, construction and ongoing operation of Amazon HQ2 is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.”

Economic development officials have much to pitch in metro Atlanta. The region offers relatively affordable real estate, both in terms of existing buildings and raw land, and a skilled labor force. Atlanta also has landed in recent years the North American headquarters of Mercedes-Benz, a division and software development center by Honeywell, the headquarters of GE Digital and a software center from health care giant Anthem.

Amazon said the response deadline to the RFP is Oct. 19, with a final decision expected next year. The company said it prefers a metro area of greater than 1 million residents and said it will consider “urban or suburban” locations to help attract and retain talent.

The document said the company wants jurisdictions to “think creatively for viable real estate options, while not negatively affecting our preferred timeline.” Among the company’s requirements, are easy access to major highways, a location within 45 minutes of an international airport and direct mass transit access.

Amazon said its requirements would start with a first phase of up 1 million square feet, with at least half of that needed by 2019.

Amazon said it will consider greenfield development, infill sites and existing buildings, or a combination.

Currently, there aren’t many large blocks of vacant space in existing buildings in metro Atlanta, though a number of developers have proposed speculative towers to woo would-be tenants. There are large parcels of potentially developable land near existing and future rail transit, including at the former General Motors site in Doraville, the High Street site near the Dunwoody MARTA station, Fort McPhersonthe former Turner Field redevelopment and along the Beltline. Georgia Tech has sizable land holdings and plans to transform its Technology Enterprise Park into a bioscience campus.

Available land also exists in downtown Atlanta’s Gulch area, which has caught the eyes of developers.

Amazon said annual average compensation for the jobs is expected to be $100,000. Jobs would include software designers and engineers, corporate finance and executive roles.

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AJC Business reporter J. Scott Trubey keeps you updated on the latest news about economic development and commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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