By bankrolling infrastructure, schools and libraries — in exchange, often, for tax breaks and lax oversight — tech companies have essentially turned some West Coast locales into company towns. But the city of Stonecrest, Georgia, is going a step further and has offered Amazon an actual company town to be named the City of Amazon.
Stonecrest City Council’s promise to de-annex 345 acres of its own land and gift it to the e-commerce giant is one of many (increasingly outlandish) pitches made by cities in hopes of securing Amazon’s second U.S. corporate headquarters. The company announced its plan for such a site in early September, and released an RFP touting $38 billion of investment between 2010 and 2016 in Seattle, the location of its flagship HQ. It also promised to hire as many as 50,000 new full-time employees for its second location.
And so the bidding war is on. As Next City covered in September, mayors immediately jumped into seduction mode, enticing the company with all they had — from easy access to East Coast millennial talent to beachside living. And since September, the many sweeteners thrown Amazon’s way have only gotten weirder.
For example, an economic development group from the city of Tucson, Arizona, loaded a 21-foot Saguaro cactus onto a truck and drove it to Seattle as a gift for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Amazon News tweeted on Sept. 19 that the company had rejected the cactus, because it couldn’t accept gifts, even “really cool ones.”
Officials from Birmingham, Alabama, meanwhile have installed Amazon delivery boxes the size of 2-story homes around the city to coincide with the mayor’s bid.
“We needed to do something very dramatic to get the attention of Amazon and the public to let them know we’re serious about it,” Mayor William Bell recently told CNN Tech. It should be noted that Bell was defeated in his reelection bid this week. While campaigning in late September, now Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin, said, “Impulsively chasing projects as they come is not strategy. Birmingham has not made the adequate investments in public safety, workforce development or public transportation over the course of Bell’s seven-year tenure to give us a real chance at landing a company like Amazon.
Meanwhile, mayors from Danbury, Connecticut, Frisco, Texas, and Washington, D.C., have all gone the Alexa route, CNN Tech reports, and released videos in which they ask Amazon’s voice assistant where the company should locate its second HQ. (Spoiler: Alexa answers with their city.)
Beyond the stunts lie the promises of tax breaks. According to CNN Tech, the state of New Jersey has made it known that it could offer Amazon up to $5 billion if a new proposed law, seeking to up the ceiling for corporate subsidies for so-called “transformative projects,” is passed. As Next City’s Kelsey E. Thomas wrote in September, Amazon “has been criticized for the tax breaks it has received in the past, particularly to build fulfillment centers, where workers tend to receive half the wages of traditional manufacturing jobs.”
When the company first made its announcement, Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks government subsidies, offered caution to the many cities vying for the company.
“Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction,” Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy said in a statement. “We fear that many states and localities will offer to grossly overspend to attract Amazon, even though the business basics — especially a metro area’s executive talent pool — will surely control the company’s decision.”
But officials aren’t acting with caution so far, and Stonecrest, Georgia, seems confident in its offer of an entire city.
“There are several major U.S. cities that want Amazon, but none has the branding opportunity we are now offering this visionary company,” Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary recently said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “How could you not want your 21st-century headquarters to be located in a city named Amazon?”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.