Atlanta officials are not missing a beat after finding out our city will not be the new home of Amazon’s glorified HQ2. Earlier this week, city officials moved forward on a project that will both help land the headquarters of a shipping company that’s been around a little longer, and will transform downtown.
Amazon’s plans were leaked to the media recently that it plans to divide its massive new headquarters between two cities. According to reports, those cities include Crystal City, Va., Dallas and New York City. Cities across the country had been scurrying to put together offers that included everything from tax incentives to actually renaming their city “Amazon” — all in hopes of wooing the new headquarters and the 25,000 employees that were supposed to come with it.
But in doing its due diligence, Amazon found it difficult to land in a city that could provide 25,000 qualified employees and also house them. So according to reports in the Wall Street Journal, it decided to split the headquarters right down the middle.
Georgia and the City of Atlanta are beasts in the world of wooing businesses, and industries for that matter, to relocate to their area. I’ve told stories of my travels to other states where I’ve talked to their representatives only to learn that they all look up to Georgia and its climate for business, growth and prosperity.
They point to the number of successful colleges, our workforce development programs, our economic diversity and our state’s ability to pull together to win deals and improve infrastructure.
For the sixth year in a row, Georgia was named the number one state for business by Site Selection Magazine. The magazine does a number of things to generate scores, including interviewing company executives, a survey that ranked Georgia at the top.
It’s hard to say exactly why Atlanta seems to be losing out to the other cities. But an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle pointed to several things.
One was that Amazon’s team first showed up in Atlanta a couple weeks after then Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle responded to Delta Airlines’ decision to stop offering discounted fares to the NRA by saying he would “kill” any legislation that benefits Delta, if the airline didn’t back down. The Amazon team apparently pressed Gov. Nathan Deal on the issue, asking about the message it sent to corporations. According to the article, they had to set up a meeting with Delta executives and other state officials to try to ease their concerns.
Other issues seemed out of Atlanta’s control. The article pointed to the fact that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. In addition to being close to his paper, having a headquarters in northern Virginia offers Amazon strong connections to the U.S. government and federal spending.
There was a lot of effort put into trying to bring Amazon to Atlanta, and no doubt there are some who may feel defeated. But by no means is Atlanta losing out. The city has been on a winning streak for what seems like the last 10 years. Just recently it has brought Inspire Brands and 1,110 jobs, Starbucks Corp. and 500 jobs, BlackRock and 1,000 jobs, Salesforce and 600 jobs, and — because of the successful Gulch vote last Monday — Norfolk Southern’s headquarters and its 850 jobs.
The Gulch project vote was a huge win for economic development in Atlanta, and the City Council was being lobbied and pressured from every major business group throughout the city to pass it. The Gulch is about 40 acres of parking lots and rail lines that sit just east of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Most of the property sits well below street level, and plans are to bring all of it up to street level in the way of a platform. This alone is estimated to take three years and an estimated at $5 billion. It would add between 1.8 million and 9.3 million square feet of office space, fix a relative eyesore, and connect areas of downtown that have been partitioned by the huge pit. There are only a handful of companies that could even attempt to take on such a project, and business groups didn’t want to miss out on the current opportunity.
Some council members were uncomfortable with the $1.9 billion in public financing that came with the approval — some of which will come from state Enterprise Zone bonds and the city’s Westside Tax Allocation District. But in the end, the council was convinced of the project’s long-term economic development benefits and approved it.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group