Amazon says cities are free to disclose their bids for the retailer’s second headquarters, but, hewing to typical corporate recruiting practices, many are staying silent. Eventually, public-records laws may force their hand, corporate location consultants say.
Tacoma officials on Wednesday hand delivered to Amazon a box containing the city’s bid for the online retailer’s second headquarters.
We don’t know much about what’s inside. The package was ceremoniously sealed with tape marked “confidential.” Economic-development officials, citing language on confidentiality in Amazon’s request for proposals, have declined to share the precise details of their offer.
Tacoma is not alone in claiming Amazon has compelled the city’s silence as the deadline to submit bids to become the site of Amazon’s second headquarters, or HQ2, nears Thursday evening.
Boosters in Louisville, Kentucky, citing a nondisclosure agreement with the company, told reporters they were not able to release any details of a bid. Kansas City officials made the same claim. So did St. Louis.
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Amazon, for its part, denies it has made any such requests for secrecy. A spokesman for the company says cities are free to share any details they would like to about their own bids. (Although the company has pledged to hold city bids as confidential if the submitter prefers.)
Amazon has sent some interested bidders nondisclosure agreements, according to several cities that have received them. But those agreements, Amazon and some of the cities say, bars release of corporate information that the company has provided to them, such as specific workforce projections, but doesn’t pertain to the city’s own activities or bid information.
Some governments are actually taking advantage of the opportunity to advertise their corporate sales pitches. Toronto and New Hampshire, for example, this week uploaded their lengthy bids in their entirety on their websites.
Others are being more selective. Calgary, Alberta, for instance, has touted its advantages: an engineering workforce trained by an oil boom and made available after the oil bust, and the quality of life that comes from sitting on the edge of the Rocky Mountains.
But the city’s boosters will not be disclosing details on tax breaks the city is prepared to offer.
“We’re in this to win,” said Mary Moran, who leads Calgary’s economic-development group. “I don’t want to expose our competitive advantage. That’s our choice.”
That’s typical in the world of corporate site selection, where secrecy often rules.
In contrast to Amazon’s public request for proposals, most companies hunt for and select real estate in secret, site location consultants say. Often the public doesn’t learn about a search until the new project is revealed with land deal (and often, tax perks) in hand.
Economic-development groups that court corporations are often structured as private or semiprivate entities, in part to avoid the public-disclosure rules that might tip off the public, or competitors, to a search, said Andy Shapiro, a corporate site location consultant.
Still, when talks advance and cities and states start discussing potential deal sweeteners like tax abatements, open records laws typically apply and force disclosure of some elements of the proceedings, or even approval by public bodies.
“You’re dealing with public moneys that you’re giving to a private company,” said Shapiro, a managing director at Biggins Lacy Shapiro. “That’s when they have to give way to the public’s right to know, because you’re spending public resources.”