Amazon unveils 20-city short list for $5 billion second headquarters

Amazon, with its Spheres under construction at the Amazon Urban Campus in Seattle, on Thursday unveiled its 20 finalist cities in which to build its second headquarters.

Paul Christian Gordon

It was worth a try, but the long shot New Orleans and Baton Rouge took at landing Amazon's 50,000-job second headquarters didn't make the cut to 20 finalists.

Amazon has narrowed its list to locations concentrated among cities in the U.S. East and Midwest, with Toronto keeping the company's international options open.

Propositions from Baton Rouge and New Orleans were mingled among 238 proposals Amazon received from 43 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as three Mexican states and six Canadian provinces.

The Seattle-based online retailer kicked off its hunt for a second home base in September, promising 50,000 new jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Amazon made clear that tax breaks and grants would be a big factor in deciding what entry prevails.

The company also stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

To help meet the criteria, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said the city could make a pitch for a "south Louisiana" office that would take New Orleans into account, an effort backed by a resolution from Baton Rouge's Metro Council.

New Orleans touted its own attributes, though experts had said that Louisiana would be a long shot, partly based on Amazon's population requirements, even marrying the New Orleans/Baton Rouge/Houma-Thibodaux region's counts, and the need for 50,000 ready-made Amazon employees. But New Orleans met some of the stipulations, including being within 45 minutes of an international airport, with direct access to major highways. The city also boasts a major port with deepwater draft and access to six major railroad lines.

In hypothetical terms, state Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson had said the state could offer off-the-shelf tax breaks tied to new jobs and its workforce training program. He also cited research showing the cost of doing business in New Orleans is about 15 percent below the national average for corporate offices and has cultural advantages.

Experts also said Louisiana's bid, though a long shot for the headquarters, had the added benefit of putting the state on Amazon's radar for other types of future facilities, such as a new warehouse or logistics facility.

Amazon said Thursday that its list includes Miami; Atlanta; Boston; New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Dallas and Austin, Texas; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; Denver; Washington D.C.; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Amazon.com Inc. said it will make a final selection sometime this year. Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters and the second home base will be "a full equal" to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had said.

The extra space will help the rapidly-growing company, which had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon's nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of natural foods grocer Whole Foods and its 89,000 employees.

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice for Amazon's second headquarters. Other's pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange. Some stunts didn't work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot tall cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon's Dash buttons.

Some state and local governments have made public the details of the financial incentives they are dangling. Boston's offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before he left office Tuesday, Republican Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure backed by Democrats to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark also proposes to give Amazon $2 billion in tax breaks, although the city has yet to release its application to the AP.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the tax breaks or other financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13 including New York, Chicago, and Miami declined requests from the AP to release their applications while other requests were still pending. Applications from Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles and Raleigh, North Carolina, were submitted by outside groups not typically bound by the same disclosure rules.

Boston published its application online, while Philadelphia released its application to the AP, but with information on proposed tax incentives redacted.

Several say they don't want their competitors to know what they're offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.