If Spokane wants to make a competitive bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, it needs an extraordinarily bold, regional proposal, says Tom Simpson, a local venture capitalist.
Think of bullet trains connecting Spokane to Seattle, he said.
Or, a light-rail system that allows people to commute from Sandpoint to Spokane and from Spokane to Pullman, giving Amazon workers plenty of choices for where to live.
Or, workforce training for the tech industry at local colleges and universities.
“Trying to get Amazon to come to Spokane is a big, hairy, audacious goal,” said Simpson, co-founder of etailz, a Spokane firm that sells merchandise on Amazon and other online platforms for its clients.
While landing Amazon’s second headquarters in Spokane is a long shot, he believes it’s valuable for the region to go through the exercise of submitting a bid. He’d like to see the community dream big about future infrastructure or incentives that would be attractive to Amazon or a company of similar caliber, or their satallite operations.
“In Amazon’s request for proposals, they said to think big and creatively,” Simpson said. “We need to think regionally.”
‘Biggest single recruitment project’
More than 100 metro areas in the U.S. and Canada are trying to entice Amazon to build its second North American headquarters in their community.
“This is the biggest single recruitment project that any state has ever seen,” said Brian Bonlender, director for the Washington Department of Commerce.
Amazon expects to spend $5 billion on the headquarters, which will employ up to 50,000 workers over the next 10 to 15 years. Company officials say the average employee compensation will be around $100,000. Bids for the headquarters are due Oct. 19.
Recruiting companies with 5,000 workers is a huge deal for states, Bonlender said. Amazon’s second headquarters would be 10 times that.
Some speculation favors bigger metro areas in the central, eastern or southern U.S. Cities such as Denver; Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; or Pittsburgh would help Amazon diversify geographically, and they more readily meet Amazon’s criteria.
Amazon has expressed a preference for a metro area of more than 1 million. The company wants a business-friendly environment, highly trained workforce and diverse population. An international airport and mass transit also are on Amazon’s list. And, the company wants incentives from state and local governments to sweeten the deal.
Despite the daunting list, a number of Washington communities plan to bid on the headquarters. Besides Spokane, the communities of Bellevue, Everett and Tacoma have expressed interest.
In talks with state officials, Amazon hasn’t ruled out putting another headquarters in Washington, or considering a metro area with less than 1 million people, Bonlender said.
“The governor has said we’ll support any of the communities interested in pursuing the second headquarters,” he said.
Washington can’t offer cash incentives to entice companies to locate in the state. That’s prohibited by Washington’s constitution, though some other states allow it, Bonlender said.
Washington can offer tax credits, but the state’s existing tax structure already favors tech companies, he said. Washington doesn’t have a corporate income tax, and tech companies are taxed more lightly than manufacturers under the state’s business and occupation tax, Bonlender said.
The state also could help with infrastructure, Bonlender said. But those requests would have to go through the Legislature.
Getting out in front
Greater Spokane Incorporated has reached out to business and community leaders as it prepares a proposal for the Spokane area.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” said Robin Toth, GSI’s vice president of business development. “We’re always promoting the Spokane area.”
GSI has been working with politicians, local governments, Spokane International Airport, real estate brokers and others as it crafts the proposal, Toth said.
Amazon wants its employees to be able to get from home to work within a half hour. So, Spokane Transit is providing information about the transit system’s future investments, Toth said.
Addressing future labor pools, the region’s eight colleges and universities are putting together information about tech-related programs and the number of graduates.
Toth also has been in contact with Coeur d’Alene’s economic development officials. The Spokane-Coeur d’Alene statistical area has about 711,000 people, which brings the region closer to Amazon’s desired population.
“Just saying we’re going to respond to the request for proposals has heightened Spokane’s visibility,” Toth said. “If people are talking about it, it can’t be bad.”
Murray Huppin is the president of Huppins, a Spokane-based electronics retailer. Like etaliz, his company does business with Amazon as a third-party merchant.
While Huppin calls Amazon “the premier retailer of our time,” he thinks Spokane’s time would be better spent trying to attract a piece of Amazon’s business, rather than competing for the headquarters.
“As others have pointed out, Spokane doesn’t meet the minimum conditions,” he said.
However, “Amazon has all kinds of businesses,” Huppin said. “I think it would be wonderful if Amazon had an official presence here. … As Amazon grows, what could they move to Spokane?”
GSI is also thinking along those lines, Toth said. Aside from the headquarters, there will be other opportunities to attract Amazon operations to the Spokane area. Submitting the headquarters bid is another chance to tell Spokane’s story to company officials, she said.
“We want to get out in front of them,” Toth said. “That’s why we are working so hard on this.”
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