Georgia officials expect Amazon to start HQ2 site visits soon

4:37 p.m Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 Business
RUTH FREMSON
Large spheres in front of Amazon’s building in Seattle, Sept. 27, 2017. Amazon said in October it had received proposals from 238 cities and regions across North America that are vying for its new, second headquarters, called HQ2. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Georgia officials expect Amazon’s site selection team to begin making visits to prospect cities as soon as next month as the hunt for the e-commerce giant’s second headquarters — and 50,000 corporate jobs — enters its next phase.

On Monday, state officials offered a glimpse into the official bid for HQ2, a proposal that included both urban and suburban sites, and highlighted the region’s workforce, research universities, transit and global connections through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Georgia’s bid still remains shrouded in secrecy. State law allows Georgia’s recruiters to keep details of the bid under wraps, and the state’s top recruiters were guarded in what they said during a Monday state Department of Economic Development board meeting in Midtown, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Deputy Commissioner of Global Commerce Tom Croteau provided an overview that showed not only the scale of what Amazon has said it wants, but how the state and its partners are trying to woo the company.

“This is or would be the largest economic development project in the history of Georgia: 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment over 15 years,” Croteau told the agency’s board of directors at a meeting in Midtown.

Croteau said the state pitched a menu of locations that can be a self-contained campus and others that stitch together multiple sites into a campus within the fabric of in-town and suburban communities.

“We have some to the north, some to the south and some both to the east and to the west,” he said.

Croteau said Amazon has made it clear that it needs 500,000 square feet to 750,000 square feet immediately, and about that much in additional space every 18 months through 2027.

Those needs could be fulfilled by both existing buildings or new ones.

Though real estate is critical in the company’s decision — and developers and local governments submitted about 70 Atlanta area sites to a state website — a capable workforce is priority No. 1 for Amazon, Croteau said.

The state’s bid emphasizes workforce, which he called the driver of Amazon’s project, as well as cultural and transportation amenities.

Georgia’s bid is said to also include a bounty of incentives, including jobs tax credits and current and future transportation improvements that might entice the company.

Croteau said site visits across the country are expected to happen in November and December with the decision in 2018, but the process will happen over multiple phases.

“It’s no surprise to us for such a big decision with 50,000 jobs in the balance that a company would take nine to 12 months in this process,” he said. “With 238 locations submitting, it will certainly take a while.”

Amazon set off a bidding war Sept. 7 when it announced plans for a North American headquarters to be the rival of its existing Seattle base. The project could span 8 million square feet of office space — or the equivalent of six Bank of America Plaza towers — total $5 billion in new investment.

Amazon’s wish list includes access to transit and major highways, up to more than 100 acres of land or suitable infill development sites that can handle such a large work force.

The company is also likely to command huge incentives. Job tax credits alone for Amazon could top $850 million, but Georgia’s pitch will likely climb into the billions with expected transportation investments and help from “deal-closing funds” the state used to nab prospects such as Caterpillar and Kia.

The state delivered its bid Oct. 19.

Because of the compressed timeline, the state has leaned on outside groups for help.

Local recruiting agencies such as Invest Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Georgia Power and other major utility groups, Delta Air Lines and other major corporations have been and will continue to be involved in the state’s bid.

The state also formed a team of real estate experts to evaluate the sites submitted by local governments and developers.

Pat Wilson, Georgia’s economic development commissioner, said the state historically partners with other agencies, but the scope and speed needed to respond to Amazon required more collaboration than is usual.

“We had a huge team and we leveraged all our resources,” he said.

Before the economic development board meeting, Gov. Nathan Deal held a press conference to tout Georgia’s designation by Site Selection magazine as the top state to do business for a fifth-straight year.

Deal demurred when asked whether such rankings might rate highly for Amazon.

“We ought to be very high,” Deal said to laughter, and said he hoped Site Selection would be able to use such a win in Georgia’s rankings next year.

Deal touted business rankings like Site Selection and post-recession job growth as validation for a number of business-friendly policies during his time in office.

The ranking of states is based on the opinion of corporate site selection consultants and on a number of business and governmental metrics, including major projects announced in each state.

“We have an economy that is clicking on all of its cylinders,” Deal said.

The state also has spent some $150,000 advertising with the magazine since Deal was elected, hoping to reach the publication’s influential readership of consultants and executives.

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