Speculation on Amazon’s options for its big HQ2 project is dominating chatter on the sidelines of a conference of site-selection consultants in Seattle this week.
Amazon kicked off a continentwide bidding war early this month when it announced it was seeking a second headquarters.
This week, by coincidence, the brokers for such deals came to Seattle. These are people who drop into conversation the term “laborshed” as easily as the local residents might use “watershed.”
The Site Selectors Guild, a trade group whose members pitch themselves as consultants for companies seeking a new site to place a plant or buy some office space, gathered at a downtown hotel this week.
The occasion was an annual meeting, a chance to network with colleagues and an audience of public-sector economic-development officials.
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Overshadowing the event was Amazon’s hunt for “HQ2,” the new corporate campus the retailer aims to place somewhere in North America. The surprise announcement by the Seattle company promised 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment — the biggest economic-development prize in memory — and attracted, at last count, more than 130 interested bidders.
Unfortunately for the assembled consultants here, Amazon is apparently using its own resources. Location consultants say that, with the exception of its data-center business, Amazon tends to use its own staff to evaluate office-space decisions.
“I wish they’d bring one of us in,” said Mark Williams, chairman of the trade group.
This week’s events for guild members included a tour of Boeing and, until a late cancellation, Amazon.
“They’re in the middle of this project, do they want 10 or 15 of us walking around?” Williams said. “Maybe it’s not the right time.”
Amazon declined to comment.
Speculation on Amazon’s options dominated chatter on the sidelines of the conference. There was little consensus.
Places with a large workforce to staff the place?
“That’s a lot of people for a laborshed to provide,” Williams said of Amazon’s hiring aims. “I’m not sure how a city of 200,000 even registers. It’s like you need New York, or Tokyo, or Los Angeles.”
Jim Renzas, of RSH Group, speculated that Amazon would likely choose a low-tax city and state, ideally a spot that appeals to tech workers. Say, Nashville, Tennessee, or Denver.
Austin, Texas? “Austin is in that bucket, although it’s pretty congested,” he said. And, Renzas added, its airport isn’t the best.
This crowd knows your city’s strengths and weaknesses by heart.
Seattle, despite its rising cost of living, housing shortage and traffic problems, is still an attractive market for corporate America, consultants said.
Gov. Jay Inslee kicked off the proceedings Tuesday with his pitch to the audience of corporate gatekeepers to consider Washington.
His staff figures about 60 businesses with site searches may land in the state.
Washington, Inslee said, was the best state for businesses, citing a “light touch regulatory system” and pro-business tax regime.
“No. 2,” he said, “Is Pickens County, South Carolina.”
The joke was a nod to posters plastering the breakfast nook set up in a corner of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Placards touted Pickens County’s business-friendly climate and expertise in the solar-power industry.
Many of the event’s sponsors and the trade group’s membership hail from the Southeast, a hotbed of activity for site-location consultants and the government economic-development groups that sit on the other side of the table.
Facing the decline of traditional industries and a small manufacturing base, states from the Carolinas to Louisiana have spent decades recruiting companies based elsewhere, courting factories from the Midwest and, later, outposts from foreign automakers and aerospace companies.
Their reach stretches to the Northwest, too. Boeing’s decision to start work on the 787 Dreamliner in Everett, and its subsequent search that landed on North Charleston, South Carolina, as a second site for building the planes, were brokered by members of the Site Selectors Guild.
Now, the race is on for another homegrown Seattle company.
Among the latest developments: Spokane threw its hat into the ring for HQ2, while New Jersey’s embattled Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers from both parties — who usually find little in common — agreed on overhauling a program that has awarded billions of dollars in tax breaks to draw businesses to the state.
The changes would allow Amazon’s HQ2 to use Grow NJ tax incentives anywhere in the state, eliminating a requirement they be used only to attract businesses to some of the state’s most economically depressed cities.