Amazon in Our Sights

Why the Triangle has a good shot at attracting the E-commerce company’s second headquarters.

There’s a reason why the Research Triangle Regional Partnership’s proposal to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to the Triangle weighed in at a whopping 32 pounds: there’s a lot of great stuff going on here, and much of it is exactly what Amazon says it’s looking for in the place it next plans to call home.

In September, Amazon released a 7-page request for proposals (RFP), encouraging North American cities to send in their bids outlining why they’d be the best. Last month, the RTRP—a regional body composed of ten counties and Research Triangle Park—sent off seven proposed sites for Amazon’s consideration.

Though the proposal is not publicly available due to the competitive nature of the bidding process, Ryan Combs, RTRP’s executive director, says the strength of the local proposal speaks for itself. In his opinion, he says, the central North Carolina region has a very strong chance of landing the E-commerce giant.

“The thing [Amazon] is most interested in is access to talent,” Combs says. “In the proposal, we concentrated a lot on access to the talent we have.”

That talent includes a regional population of 1.8 million people with nearly half in possession of a bachelor’s degree or higher. It includes a total of 15 colleges and universities and three top-tier research universities in Duke, N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill. The Triangle has one of the highest concentrations of educated talent in the country and, in the last five years, the region has been No. 1 in the country for growth in the technology sector.

There are other advantages, too, including a prime location on the east coast with access to major commercial hubs to the north and south (such as Washington D.C., Boston, Atlanta and New York City); an international airport with daily direct flights to Amazon’s hometown of Seattle; low traffic congestion compared to other major cities; a business-friendly environment; relatively low cost of real estate and the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation.

The New York Times and other observers, however, have speculated that the Triangle isn’t seriously in the running because it lacks one of the key components Amazon says it is looking for—a mass transit system. But Combs and other local experts say that analysis is misguided. Joe Millazzo, the executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance calls the Triangle’s mobility “one of our prime assets, not a deal-breaker.”

“We continue to have one of the lowest levels of traffic congestion of any growing metro area, and we plan to keep it that way,” Milazzo said. “We are investing billions in local funds – all approved by voter referenda – to create a flexible, scalable suite of enhanced multimodal transit and transportation options within the next ten years. In addition, we have strong and growing domestic and international air service connectivity.”

Indeed, the Wake County Transit Plan voters passed last year will build out 37 miles of commuter rail from Garner to Duke’s campus, with enhanced access to the airport and Chapel Hill, and options for future expansion. (Durham and Chapel Hill could potentially link to the system with a light rail component). The plan also triples bus service in Wake County, with more routes, more predictability and more hours of service. Although it will take between 10 and 15 years before the first phase of the plan is completed, Amazon’s second headquarters won’t be fully operation for 15 to 17 years anyhow.

Combs says he thinks what sets the Triangle apart from dozens of applicants, and even from the other North American cities and regions that the national experts seem to favor—Denver, Austin/Dallas, Atlanta and Boston all come to mind—is the high quality of life people enjoy here.

“Our quality of life is next to nobody’s,” he says. “Our great K-12 education, our great universities. We have the mountains three hours away and the beach, two. People who moved here have told me this area was never on their radar, but now say they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Amazon is poised to narrow down finalists sometime in the first quarter of 2018. The Triangle is likely to make the cut and then, it’s a matter of their assessing frontrunners’ tax incentives. The Triangle should be competitive in that arena as well, as state and local governments have myriad tax incentives they could offer in addition to the state’s discretionary Job Development Investment Grant.

Though North Carolina’s state and local governments have been known to clash almost as often as its rival ACC basketball fans, the region has a tradition of diverse stakeholders coming together to achieve big goals.

“The strength of the Triangle is that we know that when one community gets a project, we all benefit,” says Combs. “It’s not Durham and Raleigh badmouthing each other. This is a Triangle-wide effort to give as many ideas as we can and to work together to bring Amazon here.”

By the Numbers:
Amazon HQ2
$5B

Capital investment 

8M

Square-feet of office space

50,000 

Employees

$100,000+ 

Average annual salary

10-15 years

To build out fully


Social Media Push

Following the announcement that the Triangle’s Amazon HQ2 proposal was en route, residents began tweeting
@amazon and its CEO, @JeffBezos, with supportive messages and the hashtag #TriangleDelivers. Ryan Combs says the push on social media will be ongoing, “to try to keep the Triangle market in the news and on their minds.” We won’t, however, be resorting to any gimmicks or bribery methods a la these U.S. cities…but kudos to them for the ingenuity.

Stonecrest, Georgia

The City Council of Stonecrest, population 50,000, voted 4-2 to de-annex 345 acres of land to be named Amazon in hopes of wooing the company. Hey, it worked for Hershey, Pennsylvania—kinda.

Tucson, Arizona

Economic development leaders sent a 21-foot saguaro cactus to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, only to have the company turn around and donate the plant to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, stating on Twitter that it couldn’t accept gifts “no matter how cool.”

Birmingham, Alabama

Giant Amazon boxes are popping up throughout the city and residents are encouraged to take selfies with the boxes and post them, with the hashtag #bringatob, on Twitter.

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