Amazon.com Inc.’s public search for a second corporate headquarters has leaders from several cities making their own public declarations hoping to attract the online retailer’s attention, and Birmingham is no exception.
Amazon is expected to invest more than $5 billion and create up to 50,000 jobs with what it is calling a second headquarters, on par with its current Seattle campus. Beyond the tax base and spending that would come from those six-figure salaries is a name that would be a marquee addition to any city’s skyline.
“The whole economic development world is buzzing about that,” said Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance. “I think one thing we can look for is it will be a very competitive process.”
Some experts have predicted that incentives to win the project could top $1 billion in tax breaks and other enticements. That would be well above anything Alabama has offered any major project, to include Airbus, Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai or Thyssenkrupp.
Then again, none of those projects have anything near the number of jobs Amazon is proposing.
“I don’t recall a headquarters or any type of development that required anything close to 50,000 employees, so this is a completely different type of opportunity,” Hilson said. “They will only focus on communities that they know can first meet their needs from a workforce standpoint. To actually employ 50,000 people at a single location requires a significant population than just 50,000 people.”
Amazon has said it wants metro areas with a population of at least 1 million. Other criteria include a stable and business-friendly environment, access to mass transit and major highways, and sites that are ready for construction.
“We fit the criteria and we’ve heard rumors for some time now that they were looking, or going to start the process to look, and we certainly want to be in that hunt to make sure that we put our best foot forward,” Birmingham Mayor William Bell said. “We do meet the criteria that they’ve established. It’s just a matter of us trying to collect all of the data to submit it to them in a proper form so that we can be part of that decision-making process.”
Hilson said Birmingham is readying its pitch to Amazon.
“It’s something that we will work on – in fact we already are working on,” he said. “Where we might stand, where Alabama might stand as a state in competing for it, we will figure that out down the road. It’s very early on right now.”
Officials from Chicago, Memphis, Philadelphia, St. Louis and other cities have said they will go after the project.
Bell believes it’s worth making every effort for what others have called the trophy deal of the decade.
“Right now we only have one Fortune 500 company located here in Birmingham. We want to increase that, and that’s why we’re going to pursue this very aggressively,” Bell said. “This could have the same affect that U.S. Steel had on Birmingham decades ago, so that’s why we want to aggressively pursue it.”
Beyond the population factor, Bell said Birmingham has plenty to offer Amazon when it comes to quality of life and business climate.
“As I look at magazines and articles from around the country, Birmingham has a great image as being ‘that foodie town,’ that town where you can come and have a great meal in a great restaurant,” he said. “But more importantly, we have a perfect corporate environment for a corporation and their executives to bring their families in here to create a positive work environment for them, and we’re just proud to have this opportunity to go after Amazon.”