What does Raleigh’s competition for Amazon’s HQ2 look like?
Amazon has named the Raleigh metropolitan area as one of 20 finalists for the company’s second North American headquarters.
Amazon reviewed 238 proposals from across the United States, Canada and Mexico to host a second headquarters, after its home in Seattle. Thursday, it announced the metropolitan areas that made the cut.
All of the finalists were in the United States except for Toronto. The Triangle is the only North Carolina finalist; others from the Southeast include Atlanta, Nashville and Northern Virginia.
Charlotte, the Triad and Hickory all made pitches to Amazon, but did not make the cut.
Research Triangle Regional Partnership, an association of economic development agencies, submitted seven sites for Amazon to consider. The group wouldn’t say where the sites are in the region. Thursday’s announcement didn’t indicate if the company was looking specifically at a site in Raleigh or if that was part of the larger Triangle proposal.
The announcement buoyed the spirits of economic developers and politicians in North Carolina following last week’s loss of a massive new Toyota-Mazda joint automotive manufacturing plant. North Carolina officials had hoped to put the project in Randolph County, but the state was the runner-up to Alabama.
“It says a lot about who we are as a region,” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said of Amazon’s announcement. “We’ve obviously done a lot of things to make this the kind of place a company of that size would consider putting a headquarters.”
The Triangle has received consistently high marks from analysts who have been handicapping the contest to land the Amazon project, except for its mass transportation system. On Thursday, Davidson College economics professor Fred Smith said the lack of a transit system could hurt the area as Amazon narrows the field even further.
“Moving forward, I think some of the other issues that they listed as being ‘important’ – transportation, culture, etc. – will play a bigger role,” Smith said. “I’d anticipate that these issues will knock out cities like Indianapolis and, perhaps, Raleigh (poor transit infrastructure). It will also force cities that have a lot to offer (Pittsburgh) to take care of their glaring weaknesses. Pittsburgh’s ‘airport issues’ – it lost its hub status due to USAir’s mergers – is a big challenge, but I suspect Pittsburgh could fix that. Raleigh, on the other hand, can’t possibly fix its transportation problems in a short enough time frame.”
McFarlane, however, said that lagging behind in transit could help bring the project here because the region is in the early stages of a countywide plan that could be shaped to accommodate Amazon.
And Ryan Combs with the Research Triangle Regional Partnership pointed out that area counties helped “bolster our chances by dedicating $1 billion in new transit funds over the next 10 years.” Combs said the region, using local, state and federal money, will invest more than $4 billion in transit by 2028.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s office released his statement:
“North Carolina had four excellent proposals for the new Amazon second headquarters and I am proud that the Raleigh area made the cut. Clearly this would be a big boost to our economy, and our talented workforce, high quality of life and affordable cost of living are big magnets for any potential employer. North Carolina is the perfect place for Amazon and we will continue to work to bring these jobs to our state.”
Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said that state economic developers were excited to learn Amazon’s shortlist included the Raleigh area.
“I’m not surprised that Amazon recognizes the many benefits the Research Triangle region offers, from our friendly business climate to the technically sophisticated workforce that calls North Carolina home,” Copeland said in a statement. “Our state and local economic development teams will be working hard in the coming months to show Amazon executives how a decision to locate in Raleigh will benefit their customers, their employees, and our community.”
The announcement was met with criticism by the conservative Generation Opportunity, which advocates for conservative economic policies that affect young adults and opposes government financial incentives.
“It’s bad enough that our state has wasted nearly $100,000 already trying to entice Amazon – we shouldn’t be forced to fork over even more to a massive corporation that doesn’t need the giveaways,” Tyler Voigt, Generation Opportunity’s North Carolina spokesman, said in a statement. “Young North Carolinians deserve better than to see their hard-earned money used to tilt the playing field against entrepreneurs and other small businesses who don’t benefit from special deals.”
Amazon says it expects to eventually create 50,000 jobs and invest more than $5 billion in its second headquarters, which it says will be a full equal to its current base in Seattle.
The company created a frenzy when it announced the second headquarters and invited cities and regions to make their pitches. The company evaluated the proposals using criteria outlined in the request for proposals, including an educated, high-tech workforce, a good quality of life, a strong local economy and a “stable and business-friendly environment.”
Amazon says it will work with the finalists to dive deeper into their proposals and request additional information. The company says it expects to make a decision later this year.
Amazon offered no explanation about its choices, but Smith, the Davidson professor, suggested one reason why Charlotte didn’t make the list.
“Charlotte just doesn’t have a top-tier research university. Almost every city on the list has a world-class research university within its borders or very close by. ... A top-flight research university can potentially provide talented workers with computer science skills, but it can also offer Amazon talented employees in fields – like economics – that many folks might not immediately associate with Amazon’s new headquarters.”
The 20 finalists are:
▪ Columbus, Ohio
▪ Los Angeles
▪ Montgomery County, Maryland
▪ New York City
▪ Northern Virginia
▪ Washington, D.C.
“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” Holly Sullivan of Amazon’s public policy division said in a news release Thursday. “Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”
The Economic Development Partnership of N.C., a public-private entity, and the state Department of Commerce hired an advertising agency to market the state to Amazon. It is part of a broader $92,000 promotional campaign that includes transit ads on city buses in Seattle, digital ads, social media, public relations and T-shirts.
Last week, site selection expert John Boyd of New Jersey handicapped what he saw as the frontrunners, including the Raleigh region. Boyd said North Carolina has had a string of successes attracting businesses lately. He cited the Triangle’s strong technical workforce in pharmaceutical, IT and financial services, and noted the transformation of Raleigh’s downtown with companies like Citrix and Red Hat locating there alongside many startups.
Direct flights to Seattle and Europe are also a plus, he said, as is what he called a pro-business Democratic governor.
“Congratulations,” Boyd said Thursday. “Yesterday there were 238 candidates, now there’s 20 and Raleigh made the list, which I think is a nice endorsement.”