With no ‘meaningful conversation’ since March, Amazon passes on Raleigh for HQ2

Raleigh’s long-running courtship of Amazon has run its course.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant said on Tuesday that it has chosen to place its expanded headquarters, which it originally dubbed HQ2, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Queens, New York. It’s still unclear what the differences between the new Washington and New York offices will be.

Raleigh had been one of the 20 finalists for HQ2, with local officials shopping properties near downtown as places the company could possibly locate, The News & Observer has previously reported.

State and local officials have been silent throughout the recruitment process of Amazon, which began last September, so it is unclear what the state offered the company in incentives or what the area’s possible shortcomings were.

Amazon received $1.5 billion in incentives from New York, or about $48,000 per job, the company said in a release. Virginia gave Amazon incentives of up to $573 million, or about $22,000 per job, the company said. The average wage for both headquarters is expected to be $150,000.

Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said in a phone interview with The News & Observer that the state hadn’t had a “meaningful conversation” with Amazon since March, when company executives visited the Triangle and met with university and economic development leaders from the region for two days.

Amazon never formally told the state that it was out of the running, Copeland said.

Tony Copeland, secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce. Travis Long

Copeland said that North Carolina’s incentive package was “very competitive” with what New York and Virginia offered — adding that despite not hearing form the company since earlier this year, he didn’t think Raleigh was far away from being chosen.

“I think that if you are one of the finalists that means (the difference) is by degrees,” Copeland said. “It just shows you that any 21st-century, knowledge-based company knows the Triangle and knows North Carolina. We will always be a finalist for 21st-century, knowledge-based companies of this size.”

Many mid-size metropolitan areas, such as Austin, Raleigh, Nashville and Atlanta, were among the finalists, but in the end, Amazon went with what many considered the obvious choices of New York and Washington — two cities with worldwide clout.

“Having three fantastic research universities in close proximity to each other was surely very appealing, but I’m not sure that Raleigh was ever in the running,” Fred Smith, an economics professor at Davidson College, told The N&O in an email.

“Shortly after the list of 20 finalists was announced, speculation centered on a handful of finalists that were viewed as being the most likely locations for HQ2. ...You heard very little buzz about some of the smaller cities on the list — Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Raleigh. These are great cities, but it is hard to argue that they have the world-class amenities Washington and New York have.”

Additionally, Amazon said that Nashville, Tenn., would be getting 5,000 corporate jobs, as part of what Amazon called an “Operations Center of Excellence,” Reuters reported. Copeland said North Carolina never had any conversations about landing a smaller number of employees.

“We are moving forward,” Copeland said, noting that it should be an exciting end to the year on the economic development front for North Carolina. “We will definitely learn from our experiences.”

Losing out on the Amazon expansion was the latest in a string of large economic development projects that the state has narrowly missed out on, including a possible Toyota plant that went to Alabama and the Army Futures Command center that went to Austin.

California technology company Apple, which has yet to name where it will place its own new corporate campus, is considering Research Triangle Park for a new campus, The News & Observer has previously reported.

Reaction on social media about Amazon in the Triangle was mixed.

“Would have been a perfect fit and a game changer for the #triangle area. #Whoisnext?” one person posted on Twitter.

“Relieved! We don’t have the transportation infrastructure to support it,” another tweeted.

“I am pleased that throughout the process, Raleigh and Wake County were seen as a serious contender for this relocation,” Wake County Commissioner John Burns tweeted. “We might not have won this contest, but there can be no question that we are in the game. People like what we have to offer.”

Similarly, popular support for bringing Amazon to Raleigh seemed to lag, as many in the area seemed concerned about its potential impact to home prices and traffic in an already booming market.

According to a poll conducted by Elon University in the spring, around 43 percent of locals in Raleigh “strongly supported” bringing HQ2 to the Triangle, which was around the middle of the pack of the 20 cities surveyed by Elon.

Nathan Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas who studies recruitment of companies, said Amazon may have lost public support by dragging out its search so publicly. He noted that some politicians, such as recently elected U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were critical of the company’s selection of Queens.

“I think Amazon made this a public spectacle and they have lost control of the narrative,” Jensen said in an email. “New investment announcements are supposed to be great PR for a company. This could be a PR nightmare for them.”

Jensen said his biggest concern, though, is how secret the recruitment has been from the public eye. “So many cities skirted their public records laws, often submitting their bids through chambers of commerce, all to only be rejected by Amazon. I think this process is damaging for many of the open government reforms that have been made across the United States.”

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