Atlanta races for another ‘Olympic moment’ with Amazon bid


The pitches are in, but the work to land Amazon’s second headquarters is far from over.

On Thursday, a Georgia official hand-delivered hardbound copies of what insiders call a “formidable” package for “HQ2,” a 50,000-job, $5 billion bonanza with the potential to alter the economic landscape of the winning bidder.

The state Department of Economic Development also released a promotional video showing Brittany Holtzclaw, a top state recruiter, leave the department’s offices at Georgia Tech with a box touting the state’s top business ranking. She boards a MARTA train and then a Delta Air Lines jet (one of 11 direct flights from Atlanta to Seattle, a Delta crew member helpfully says in the video). The video ends after she lands in Seattle and enters the company’s Day One tower.

All the while, words such as talent, connectivity and innovation flash on the screen.

“When everybody hears about Georgia’s proposal, you’re going to see that we left nothing on the table,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at a city event Thursday.

The filmed handoff of Georgia’s bid at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters was a bit of a dramatic flair for a state that typically plays the economic development game with its cards close to the vest.

But such is the nature of a public bidding war unlike any major economic development project in recent memory.

Amazon unleashed an international sweepstakes last month with an online request for proposals for a second headquarters to be the equal of its Pacific Northwest base of operations — a campus totaling 8 million square feet.

Georgia’s proposal includes details for dozens of development sites around metro Atlanta. It boasts about the city’s technology talent. It touts Atlanta’s globally connected airport, the region’s transit network and plans to expand MARTA rail.

The state’s formal bid also isn’t shy about the bevy of incentives and infrastructure improvements Georgia and local officials can offer that total well more than $1 billion.

“I’m highly confident that this is the most aggressive economic attraction package that the state of Georgia has ever put forward,” said Reed, who said the city has never before offered more incentives.

“This is an Olympic moment,” he added. “This is a singular moment for Atlanta.”

Recruiters and economic development experts say the pitches from dozens of cities across North America are merely the opening volley to ensure they find a place on Amazon’s shortlist.

Amazon likely started its search with leading contenders already in mind, but people familiar with the metro Atlanta package said Georgia leaders want to deliver a “wow factor” and show Amazon that Georgia has the company firmly on its mind.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the teamwork and collaboration among our economic development partners in submitting a unified response to Amazon’s RFP,” Pat Wilson, the state’s commissioner of economic development said in a statement. “This has been a cooperative effort by the entire region, and we truly believe metro Atlanta is the “Prime” location for Amazon’s HQ2.”

‘Searching for the best deal’

There’s a reason Atlanta is laying it on the line. The city is widely believed to be a surefire finalist for the project. Moody’s Analytics, the financial services arm of the global financial firm, published a recent study ranking the top competitors for the deal on five factors. Atlanta came in second, just behind Austin, Texas.

Roger Tutterow, a Kennesaw State University economist, said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is playing his hand brilliantly. The open competition heightens the stakes.

“This just shows you another compliment to the marketing genius Jeff Bezos,” he said. “He’s got an economic development plum and he’s searching for the best deal.”

Amazon said it plans to make its pick known next year. In the weeks to come, economic development watchers expect Amazon to narrow its list to a handful of cities and make site visits. That’s when the real courtship begins.

Georgia’s pitch — not only the formal package but also in later meetings with Amazon officials if the state advances — won’t focus solely on land and incentives. Leaders will offer a vision not only of metro Atlanta today, but it’s history and future, as an innovator in technology, logistics, civil rights and marketing.

Nearly every major city in the U.S. and elsewhere in North America honed their own packages for the e-commerce giant.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upped the ante to $7 billion in incentives, from the $5 billion the state previously offered. Cities across the nation have sent emissaries to Seattle, touted their cultural treasures and even installed giant Amazon buttons around town. One tried (unsuccessfully) to ship a cactus to Bezos.

There also have been bids to grab attention among metro Atlanta communities.

The newly-formed suburb of Stonecrest, in a publicity stunt, offered the tech giant hundreds of acres of land that could be incorporated into its own city of Amazon, Ga. Stonecrest’s mayor even promised a legislative push to allow Bezos to be the area’s unelected mayor.

And metro Atlanta wasn’t the only place in Georgia to give it a shot.

LaGrange gave it a go, too, independent of the state, even though the west Georgia city lacks the population, transportation infrastructure and other essentials on Amazon’s wish-list. T. Scott Malone, who heads the city’s development authority, tweeted a picture of LaGrange leaders locked arm-to-arm.

“Look out Atlanta, Chicago and Boston,” he said in a LinkedIn post: “Some people ask why. We ask why not?”

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

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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