Cities Dream Of Landing Amazon's New HQ And They're Going To Great Lengths To Show It | KUOW News and Information

Cities Dream Of Landing Amazon's New HQ And They're Going To Great Lengths To Show It

Oct 16, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 6:55 am

Officials in Tucson, Ariz., uprooted a 21-foot-tall saguaro cactus and tried to have it delivered to Amazon's Seattle headquarters. Birmingham constructed giant Amazon boxes and placed them around the Alabama city. In Missouri, Kansas City's mayor bought a thousand items online from Amazon and posted reviews of each one.

All of these cities are clearly trying hard to get Amazon's attention. Why? Because they know that otherwise, they don't stand a chance against some big-name cities that are all trying to win the contest to land Amazon's second headquarters.

The retail giant announced a month ago that it has plans for a second home outside of Seattle, where it is currently headquartered. The project has been named HQ2, and the deadline for final bids is Thursday. Amazon has promised to invest $5 billion and said the facility will create as many as 50,000 jobs.

It has led to a mad scramble from cities across the nation and even in Canada. And various publications have analyzed cities' chances of landing this deal. Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh have made it to a few of those lists.

Many cities don't really figure as finalists on any of those lists. But that hasn't stopped them. In fact, just like Tucson or Birmingham, cities are pulling out all the stops to get noticed.

"We're seeing all kinds of stunts," says Ron Starner of Site Selection magazine, which is devoted to following news and trends from the world of locating factories, warehouses and headquarters.

There are also plenty of videos of mayors asking Amazon's voice recognition personal assistant Alexa where the company should locate. Guess what the answer is? It's always their city.

On the wanted list of this $135 billion company: a metro area of a million or more people, access to mass transit and proximity to an international airport. (Amazon is one of NPR's financial supporters.)

The reality is there is probably no North American metro area that has everything Amazon's looking for — especially a ready-to-go workforce of 50,000 professionals.

That gap leaves economic development officials in places like Grand Rapids, Mich., thinking they have a chance.

The city does not have light rail mass transit, but it has a bus system with dedicated lanes. Local officials say the region has other assets that should make it attractive.

The city is just half an hour from Lake Michigan. It boasts a walkable downtown with plenty of restaurants and brewpubs, museums and entertainment venues.

Kristopher Larson with the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority acknowledges the city is a long shot but hopes the quality of life here will grab the attention of a certain Amazon CEO.

"And we're hoping it's going to turn Jeff Bezos' head and he's going to take a look at us," Larson says.

But that's not all, says Birgit Klohs with The Right Place, another regional economic development group. She says this is a learning experience.

"Just to be in the pool to us is success," she says. "We want to tell our story. We want to give Grand Rapids and west Michigan national attention by going for this."

And that could grab the attention of other companies looking for a place to locate. So, Klohs says Grand Rapids can't lose by trying to win over Amazon.

"This is something we have to do," she said. "We owe [it to] our community ... that we put our best foot forward."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The retail giant Amazon is looking for a second home. And this could mean thousands of jobs and a new economic anchor for a city. Big cities like Denver and Atlanta are competing. But as we hear from Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta, leaders in some smaller cities think they have a shot, if only they could get Amazon's attention.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Tucson, Ariz., uprooted a 21-foot-tall saguaro cactus and tried to have it delivered to Amazon's Seattle headquarters. Birmingham, Ala., constructed giant Amazon boxes and placed them all around the city.

RON STARNER: Yeah we're seeing all kinds of stunts.

PLUTA: Ron Starner is the executive vice president of Site Selection magazine. Yes, there is a magazine devoted solely to the art and the craft of choosing where to locate factories, warehouses and world headquarters. Starner says people are getting creative as they try to land the project.

STARNER: Tucson sent the cactus. The mayor of one city - and forgive me, I don't recall - he actually traveled to Seattle and stood outside Amazon headquarters. There's a community here in the suburban Atlanta market that even annexed a whole bunch of land and said, look, if you come here, we'll let you call this Amazon City.

PLUTA: Amazon's also getting lots of videos from mayors using Amazon products to show they're ready to be team players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK BOUGHTON: I'm a proud Amazon customer. So, Alexa, where is the best place for Amazon to locate its second world headquarters?

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Danbury, Conn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURIEL BOWSER: Alexa, where is the most interesting company in the world going to locate?

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Obviously, Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF CHENEY: Hey, Alexa, where should Amazon locate HQ to?

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: In Frisco, Texas.

PLUTA: So what is this hundred billion dollar company looking for? A metro area of a million or more people, access to mass transit and proximity to an international airport, among other things. But the reality is there's probably no North American metro area that has everything Amazon's looking for, especially a ready-to-go workforce of 50,000 professionals. And so for economic developers in places like Grand Rapids, Mich., they think they have a chance. The city is just half an hour from Lake Michigan. It boasts a walkable downtown with plenty of restaurants and brewpubs, museums and music venues. Kristopher Larson with the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority acknowledges the city is a long shot but hopes the quality of life here will grab the attention of a certain Amazon CEO.

KRISTOPHER LARSON: We're hoping it's going to turn Jeff Bezos's head, and he's going to take a look at us.

PLUTA: But that's not all, says Birgit Klohs with The Right Place, a regional economic development group. She says this is a learning experience.

BIRGIT KLOHS: Just to be in the pool to us is success. We want to tell our story. We want to give Grand Rapids and west Michigan national attention by going for this.

PLUTA: Klohs says Grand Rapids can't lose by trying to win Amazon.

KLOHS: This is something we have to do. We owe our community that we put our best foot forward.

PLUTA: But their hopes are real that an online retail prince will slide a glass slipper onto that foot to make this city an economic Cinderella story.

PLUTA: For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Grand Rapids, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES")

ILENE WOODS: (Singing) A dream is a wish your heart makes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.