Louisiana is likely to be among dozens of states and localities hoping to land a massive new Amazon headquarters through an unusually public bidding process the company has created seemingly aimed at producing the most generous offer.
Landing such a project would be a game-changer for the New Orleans area, the likeliest site in the state to meet the various requirements the giant retailer has listed. And even though the region would seem like a long shot, officials say they’re ready to tout the possibilities they can offer.
Don’t be surprised if your ears are ringing more than usual.
Amazon, bursting out of its Seattle headquarters, is hunting for a second home. Requirements include a prime location, close to transit, with plenty of space to grow.
And, of course, a substantial incentive package.
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The company said Thursday it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees. It plans to also stay in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, with the new space being "a full equal" to that, said founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Amazon's announcement highlights how fast the e-commerce giant is expanding, and its need to find fresh talent to fuel that growth.
With the lure of so many new jobs, city and state leaders were already lining up Thursday to say they plan to apply. Among the expected applicants: Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Localities have a little more than a month to apply through a special website , and Amazon said it will make a decision next year.
Louisiana officials, who would be the point people on recruiting the tech giant for this area, remained somewhat coy Thursday, saying that economic development strategies, negotiations and proposals are confidential. And the details of any bid would require a bit more information, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said.
“We have a lot of alignment in our state for attracting companies like Amazon, certainly a proven track record in IT companies, certainly a strong logistics with rail and the port,” Pierson said. “Beyond that, (we offer) our Louisiana Fast Start workforce solutions and really a lot of very low cost for a corporate headquarters in some of our major cities.”
Amazon’s requirements could rule out some places. It wants to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people, to be able to attract top technical talent, to be within 45 minutes of an international airport, to have direct access to mass transit and to be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.
That's about the same size as its current home in Seattle, which has 33 buildings, 23 restaurants and 40,000 employees.
That set of requirements doesn’t necessarily play to New Orleans’ strengths, particularly given the city's oft-criticized public transit and limited international flights. And that’s not counting other potential issues such as infrastructure problems and the threat of hurricanes.
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Amazon said it will hire up to 50,000 new full-time employees at the second headquarters over the next 15 years, paying them an average of more than $100,000 a year.
While the population requirement would suggest New Orleans as the only city in the state that could be in contention, Pierson suggested there might be some more flexibility as the process goes on.
He said exactly where such a campus could be located would be subject to further discussions, though he suggested focusing on the “confluence of opportunities” between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“We want to have a better understanding of the needs of the client before we would be able to evaluate the most optimal sites,” Pierson said. “We want to position the state to have the greatest opportunity to be successful for this project.”
The company is hoping for something else from its second hometown: tax breaks, grants and other incentives. A section of the proposal dealing with that says "the initial cost and the ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers."
Brad Badertscher, an accounting professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the company's public search appears to be a way to start a bidding war among cities.
"This was like an open letter to city leaders saying, 'Who wants Amazon and all our jobs?' " Badertscher said. "This is Jeff Bezos doing what he does best: adding shareholder value and getting the most bang for the buck."
Pierson also said the company’s strategy appeared geared toward increasing competition for the new Amazon campus.
“It invites in more competition which they hope will yield a greater number of proposed sites and location alternatives and perhaps maximize the incentive packages that are made available,” he said.
Amazon gets tax breaks when cities compete for its massive warehouses, where it packs and ships orders. The company received at least $241 million in subsidies from local and state government after opening facilities in 29 different U.S. cities in 2015 and 2016, according to an analysis by Good Jobs First, a group that tracks economic development deals.
In explaining why it is holding a public site-selection process, Amazon said on its site that it wants "to find a city that is excited to work with us and where our customers, employees and the community can all benefit."
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Exactly what kinds of incentives could be on the table in Louisiana are unclear, though Pierson said both the governor and the Legislature have traditionally been supportive of pursuing projects, similar to the Amazon deal, that would offer long-term benefits to the state.
Bezos has crowdsourced major decisions before. In June, just before Amazon announced its plan to buy organic grocer Whole Foods, the billionaire took to Twitter seeking ideas for a philanthropic strategy to give away some of his fortune.
And tech companies have been known to set places in competition with each other. In vying to land Google's ultra-fast broadband network, many cities used stunts and gimmickry to get the company's attention. Topeka even informally renamed itself "Google, Kansas."
Amazon.com Inc. said its search is open to any metropolitan area in North America. Jed Kolko, the chief economist at the job site Indeed, noted that the company's request for proposals mentions "provinces" several times — a clear sign it would consider a Canadian site.
Kolko also said an East Coast locale could bring it closer to the company's offices in Europe.
Amazon's arrival might transform an area: Until 10 years ago, the neighborhood near its Seattle campus just north of downtown was dotted with auto parts stores and low-rent apartments. Now it's a booming pocket of high-rise office complexes, sleek apartment buildings and tony restaurants.
And the company keeps growing. Amazon has said it will hire 100,000 people by the middle of next year, adding to its current worldwide staff of more than 380,000. It has announced plans to build three new warehouses that pack and ship packages in New York, Ohio and Oregon. And it recently paid close to $14 billion for Whole Foods and its more than 465 stores.
The Whole Foods headquarters in Austin is far smaller than what Amazon said it's looking for. That flagship hub is also a full-service grocery store with shoppers who compete for parking spaces. Even its larger corporate campus that stretches along the surrounding blocks may be too small for the space Amazon would want for a second headquarters.
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In Seattle, Amazon's rise has not been without critics, who say the influx of mostly well-heeled tech workers has caused housing prices to skyrocket, clogged the streets with traffic and changed the city for the worse. The Seattle Times reported Thursday that the median price for a house in August in Seattle was $730,000, up almost 17 percent in a year.
That itself may be a factor. Amazon may be looking for a spot where it's not as expensive for its employees to live, said Rita McGrath, a professor at the Columbia Business School in New York.
"It's hard to attract people if they can't afford the housing available locally," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.