What is NC offering Amazon? Another group requests records on incentives

A town near Atlanta, one of the 20 finalists to land Amazon’s east coast headquarters, is offering to rename the town and install Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as its permanent mayor.

Boston proposed the creation of an “Amazon Task Force” as a liaison between the company and city government. And Washington D.C. pitched the idea of an “Amazon University,” to train people to work at “HQ2.”

What are Raleigh, another finalist, and North Carolina offering Amazon, the Seattle-based Fortune 15 company to come to the Tar Heel state? Gov. Roy Cooper has said N.C.’s incentives package, while competitive, won’t be the biggest bid offered to Amazon. But his administration hasn’t released details about potential sites or incentives offerings.

“The No. 1 incentive to businesses in North Carolina is a well-trained, skilled workforce that’s educated. So we have to make the investments in education instead of tax giveaways to the wealthy,” Cooper has said.

Now, a conservative group that opposes incentives is joining a growing chorus of taxpayers asking state officials to be more transparent in their effort to recruit jobs to North Carolina. Americans for Prosperity is asking Cooper, the N.C. Department of Commerce and several other organizations to release records related to their pitch to Amazon.

“If officials really believed North Carolina families would benefit from the Amazon deal, then they wouldn’t keep the details of this bid boxed up. We deserve to know how much of our money is being offered,” said Anna Beavon Gravely, the group’s director for N.C.

The News & Observer, WRAL and various media outlets have also requested records related to North Carolina’s recruitment of Amazon. AFP has been a vocal critic of incentives and of Cooper, a Democrat.

A branch of their organization, Generation Opportunity, recently launched a nationwide campaign that discourages finalist cities from offering incentives.

“While small businesses and young entrepreneurs struggle, government cuts special deals with Amazon, a corporation that raked in $175 billion last year!” the GO ad says. “Does this look like a company that needs taxpayer cash?”

Cooper has defended his use of incentives, which only go to companies once they spend a certain amount of money and hire a specified number of employees.

The N.C. General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, last year enhanced incentives for companies that invest at least $4 billion and create at least 5,000 jobs. They could receive full tax refunds and the state could help pay to develop sites. Amazon says it will spend $5 billion and hire up to 50,000 high-paying jobs.

Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter to Amazon last year saying they were open to “further modifications” to the financial incentives package that has been offered. The letter surfaced as part of a records request The News & Observer and other news outlets made of Catawba County, where the city of Hickory was one of four applications North Carolina submitted for the new headquarters.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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