Officials address concerns and opportunities
An elusive, and sizable, cardboard box sealed with Amazon tape marked “Confidential” sat on a folding table as Tacoma and Pierce County officials divulged what little they could about the city’s proposal for Amazon’s second headquarters.
Shortly after today’s press conference at the Pantages Theaer, the box was whisked away by a private car and delivered to Amazon leadership in Seattle, just one day before the company’s deadline for its surprising public request for proposals from cities nationwide.
Per Amazon’s requirements to keep the details of each proposal confidential, officials only talked broadly about their proposal, including housing concerns, tax breaks and incentives, and whether Tacoma is too close to Amazon’s current headquarters..
A bid for Tacoma
For the past six weeks, Tacoma has been addressing Amazon’s 33 deliverables for the $5 billion capital investment with 8-million-square-feet of office space and the potential for 50,000 high-paying jobs.
A team of 50 people from multiple sectors crafted a pitch that Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, said exceed Amazons requirements.
“Amazon has achieved tremendous innovation, growth, and game-changing customer service,” Kendall said. “HQ2 must enhance and accelerate the company’s drive and operational excellence, and that is exactly what this proposal will provide.”
Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier addressed a comment from an Amazon official that “Not everybody wants to live in the Northwest.”
“That’s true,” Strickland said of the comment. “But let me tell you who does: The best and brightest with our universities, our public life, our environmental ethos, our openness to people who want to marry who they love, the fact that we believe in climate change and we know we have a responsibility to do something about it to leave a place better for our children. People want to live here for a reason.”
She added, “Let me be clear. We are not seeking salvation. We want a partner to grow with us. We are growing. People want to move here. Good things are happening.”
And if not for the quality of life, Dammeier said Tacoma is a prime choice because of its “rich connection to Japan, to Korea, and to the Pacifica world” that is a key asset for Amazon moving forward. The City of Destiny is also just a few miles from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with professionals who are technically trained and understand competition and teamwork.
Demographically, Tacoma is diverse with a workforce encompassing more people in their 30’s than 20’s, which offers stability to companies that are more mature and are formulating a plan for the next 10 years of growth, he said.
Fulfilling Amazon’s request created an opportunity for local officials to collaborate and discern the area’s strengths.
“It’s exciting to explore those things, Dammeier said. “When you look at those offerings, we have sites ready today in Tacoma for Class A office space to meet their needs. We’ve got a data center today in Puyallup ready to meet their needs. We’ve got sites for fulfilling manufacturing in Sumner, in Lakewood, in DuPont ready to meet their needs. So, we can move and hit the ground running in a collaborative way that hasn’t been done before.”
Affordable housing and incentives
In the days after Amazon announced plans for HQ2, articles warned of its effects on a city, pointing to the river of backed-up cars that snake the surrounding roadways and housing costs that have priced many out of the city. This, however, did not sway Strickland’s stance. .
“I think the first thing I want to say, I don’t think Amazon is responsible for the housing crisis in Seattle,” she said. “I think there are many factors that contribute to that. The simple one is that it’s just supply and demand. There’s so many that want to live there that they don’t have enough housing to accommodate everyone.”
In Tacoma and in the South Sound, she assured there’s a capacity to grow and plenty of land to build more housing. Recalibrating incentives to encourage developers to build in this area is an avenue that can be explored. The key is to also have high-paying jobs so people can afford housing, as well as access to transportation options so that people don’t have to rely on their cars for their daily commutes, she said.
Dammeier highlighted that 99,000 people in the area commute north every day for work. Tacoma especially has made the ability for people to be to live and work in the same city part of its mission, and Amazon would fulfill that, Strickland said.
In terms of incentives to draw the megacompany, Kendall said he couldn’t get into specifics, but there are existing incentives, including tax incentives related to company headquarters, that Kendall said, “are almost unique to Tacoma.” The proposal also includes prospective incentives, as requested by the company.
But this doesn’t just come down to the dollars and cents, Dammeier added.
“If someone is just looking at dollar incentives, there’s someone that’s probably going to beat us by a ways,” Dammeier said. “But that’s not what we’re competing on. This is about productivity. This is about leveraging what they already have.”
Amazon stated it would start building HQ2 in 2019, and it likely will announce which city the company will call home sometime in 2018.
Kendall predicts the world will have an answer in the first part of 2018.
In his remarks during the press conference, Kendall said, “Today we say to Amazon, welcome home. Because we know that HQ2’s fit for Tacoma/Peirce County is ideal. … We are close enough to the first headquarters to engender real collaboration and far enough away to (encourage) intracompany competition.”