Amazon said Thursday that it has narrowed its list of finalists for its massive second headquarters to 20 cities – and Charlotte didn’t make the cut.
Raleigh did make the list, however. The shortlist includes several other fast-growing cities in the South, such as Atlanta, Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn. Three locations in and around the nation’s capital – Washington, D.C., along with suburban Maryland and Virginia – made the list, along with university-heavy Boston and Rust Belt cities Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.
The headquarters has been an object of fierce competition between cities – 238 of whom submitted bids, some with outlandish PR stunts such as a 21-foot cactus from Tucson, Ariz. – since it’s expected to bring 50,000 high-paid jobs and more than $5 billion worth of investment. Amazon has said the new campus will be equal to its Seattle headquarters.
Charlotte officials said they were shocked and frustrated that the city missed out while other peers, such as Raleigh and Nashville, made Amazon’s list.
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“I am absolutely flabbergasted that Charlotte didn’t make the list,” said Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari, who helped lead a group called Hivestorm with the Carolina Fintech Hub to support the Amazon bid. “If you had said five cities were on the shortlist and Charlotte wasn’t one of them, I’d say, ‘Alright, I guess I understand that.’ ... Something’s wrong here.”
One big advantage Raleigh has over Charlotte are ties and accessibility to top research universities – Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State – that can offer intern programs, research and innovation/incubation centers on or nearby their campuses, experts have said.
“When I tell you I am literally shocked we didn’t make a 20-city list, I can’t overstate that,” said Bokhari. He said the process of bidding for Amazon will ultimately help the city by defining its tech assets and how Charlotte can lure other companies in the future. Bokhari said he thinks the Raleigh area’s high-ranked colleges gave it an edge.
“Clearly the concentration of their top research universities there makes a difference,” said Bokhari.
Omar Kazzaz, a local logistics consultant who’s been following Charlotte’s bid, agreed that universities likely held Charlotte back.
“We want Duke, Harvard, MIT or extensions of those to attract the big boys,” said Kazzaz. “We don’t have the big names.”
Amazon’s shortlist was the latest loss for Charlotte, which missed out on being picked for the current round of Major League Soccer expansion teams last year. Earlier this month, Toyota and Mazda announced that they picked Alabama over North Carolina for a joint auto plant.
Charlotte submitted its bid for Amazon’s second headquarters along with the other cities in October.
Officials who submitted the bid drummed up excitement about the project on social media using the hashtag #CLTisPrime, and took out ads on buses in Seattle extolling North Carolina’s history of innovations, such as the invention of powered flight and the bar code.
“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” said Holly Sullivan of Amazon’s public policy arm, in a statement. Amazon judged the cities on criteria such as their tech workforce, public transit and global connectivity from their airports, as well as the size of tax incentives. The company plans to make its final decision this year, Amazon said.
The Charlotte Regional Partnership-led group supporting Charlotte’s bid included letters from a handful of prominent leaders in the proposal, including Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl and LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda. Also included in Charlotte’s proposal, sent in a custom-made wooden box, were details of the more than 20 possible sites where the campus could be built, from uptown to Steele Creek to outlying counties such as Rowan and Cabarrus. The bid emphasized Charlotte’s “edginess” and appeal to millennials, with a spoken word pitch from a local poet.
“We put our best foot forward in responding to Amazon’s RFP for its HQ2 location and are proud of the proposal we made. As we said from the beginning of this process, whether or not we are selected by Amazon, we will reap significant benefits from the unprecedented regional effort,” the Charlotte Regional Partnership and Charlotte Chamber said in a joint statement.
In a tweet, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said she is proud of the community’s effort, and called for support of Raleigh for HQ2. “We rallied together over the past few months to prepare the Amazon HQ2 proposal and are proud of the collaboration that will continue to serve us well,” Lyles said.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, the Triad and Hickory also submitted bids. The North Carolina Department of Commerce said it was equally supporting all bids.
N.C. Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland said he is “not surprised” that Amazon included the Research Triangle area, pointing to its its tech-savvy workforce.
“Our state and local economic development teams will be working hard in the coming months to show Amazon executives how a decision to locate in Raleigh will benefit their customers, their employees, and our community,” Copeland said in an email to the Observer.
Experts say that one of the biggest pieces of the proposal Amazon will consider are the incentives and tax breaks each city will offer.
Some cities and states have offered Amazon massive tax breaks, with New Jersey dangling $7 billion worth of incentives. City and state officials in Charlotte and North Carolina have kept quiet about how much taxpayer money they are offering Amazon, however.
The Amazon shortlist includes:
▪ Columbus, Ohio.
▪ Los Angeles
▪ Montgomery County, Md.
▪ Newark, N.J.
▪ New York City
▪ Northern Virginia
▪ Washington, D.C.