As Austin Waits For Word On Amazon Bid, Austinites Wait For Word On What Was Offered

Oct 20, 2017

While Amazon has been very public about its process of finding a location for a second headquarters, it has asked Austin and the other 100-plus bidders to keep quiet about their proposals.

The tech giant explicitly asked that submissions be "confidential.”

“We’re excited about it,” said Mike Berman, senior vice president for the Austin Chamber of Commerce, which submitted a bid Wednesday. “It’s a great opportunity and when you take a look at all of the factors in this region, it makes a very compelling case.”

Berman offered some general information about what the Chamber put into the bid; we know it covers the entire metropolitan area, including surrounding suburbs, and that 40 to 50 sites were considered.

Amazon encouraged regions to unite behind one bid.

Not all the bidders were as hush-hush. Many entrants released promotional videos, ostensibly included in their proposal. In his state’s bid, the Missouri governor tied together St. Louis and Kansas City with the Hyperloop. Philadelphia hyped its big-city appeal and diversity. (Some viewers might notice a SXSW badge in the middle of the Philly video).

Milam County, a largely rural county just northeast of Austin, pointed to its vast and open space in its sales pitch.

Milam officials know they likely will not attract the company, but they’re hoping the pitch video catches attention from potential employers; one of the county’s biggest employers, the Luminant power plant in Rockdale, is set to close next year.

Videos and stunts aside, the decision will come down to specific criteria, with tax incentives to likely weigh heavily. New Jersey has been very public about the millions in tax abatements it would give Amazon if it were to locate there. Most of the cities in the running – including Austin – have not been so forthright about what government incentives were offerred.

“There are several types of incentive programs that can come from cities, counties, independent school districts and the state,” Berman said. “So, each of these jurisdictions have their own incentive policies and, then, they have their own programs that they could potentially offer, that’s depending on what makes sense for that community.”

But not every city is offering tax breaks or other incentives. San Antonio pulled out of the contest, saying it didn’t want to offer too much to one company. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said city and county officials deliberated long and hard about it, but what San Antonio had to offer was not going to be competitive.

“That’d be like going into a fight with a six-shooter and the other people have got bazookas,” he said.

Wolff said a partial tax break on an office building would likely not be enough to lure Amazon, and officials there were not willing to offer more.

“So, if they decide they like San Antonio or they want to come to San Antonio, we’d be glad to sit down and talk with them about the terms which they would come," he said. "But we’re not going to get into a bidding war."

“You know they’re so strong, they’d be crazy to give a nickel away,” Wolff said about Austin. “They’ve got everything going for them in terms of the workforce, the tier-one university. They’ve got all the attributes that are so strong up there.

In addition to Austin and Milam County, several Texas cities are vying for “HQ2.” El Paso and Houston reportedly submitted bids, as did several cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In its pitch, Frisco promised to build the rest of the town around Amazon.

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