Amazon narrowed its list of potential cities for its massive second headquarters to a final grouping that includes Atlanta and 19 other metro areas in the U.S. and Canada, the company said Thursday.
The shortlist also includes Austin, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Toronto and Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. Amazon’s finalists will vie for the massive project, known as HQ2, that could house 50,000 highly paid tech and corporate workers.
The hunt for HQ2 now enters its most critical phase, a race to the finish where finalists will put on the hard sell to land the mammoth project. In turn, HQ2 will likely create one of the biggest incentives bidding wars in memory, with lawmakers doing battle to land a legacy-defining prize.
“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals,” Holly Sullivan, an executive with Amazon Public Policy, said in a statement. “Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity. Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”
Some cities and states already have put offers on the table for billions in potential incentives – including tax breaks, land and other perks. Georgia’s incentives offerings are said to also top $1 billion, and include tax breaks, grants and potential transportation improvements.
Many in Georgia political and economic development circles expected Atlanta to be a finalist for the $5 billion project.
The decision puts Georgia lawmakers one step closer to a broader debate over just how much the state should offer to sweeten the pot for Amazon. Gov. Nathan Deal said last week he would call a special legislative session to hash out incentives if Georgia is a top finalist for the headquarters.
It could be a dicey proposition for conservatives and liberals alike who would have to vote on potentially 10-figure economic development packages to lure the ecommerce giant. But an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released last week shows broad public support for a potentially lucrative package.
The poll showed about 65 percent of those surveyed said they would support giving incentives worth more than $1 billion to Amazon if it brings tens of thousands of jobs to the state. The $1 billion figure could just be the starting point – several other competitors have already offered several times that amount in tax benefits.
Amazon unveiled the headquarters search in September. Some in Atlanta have equated the state's pursuit of Amazon as an Olympics-like bid, with civic, business and government leaders coalescing around one goal, knowing wherever Amazon might land in the region – if Amazon picks metro Atlanta – the investment would reverberate across the state.
Most of the finalist cities boast deep technology talent pools, research universities, world-class international airports and robust transit networks; all of which were among Amazon’s requirements.
But some are smaller cities that seem to lack the air connectivity or transit that might be expected for a project that could have 50,000 jobs
Atlanta also routinely competes with many of these cities, including Dallas and Chicago, in headquarters relocation sweepstakes.
But amid the fervor is the real chance Georgia and other rivals will break the bank for a single company. Others worry of what some have labeled a “prosperity bomb,” where a rush of high-paying corporate jobs could exacerbate a burgeoning affordable housing crunch in Atlanta, much as Seattle has grappled with a yawning inequality gap.
This story will be updated later today on the subscriber website myAJC.com
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