So far, 238 cities have submitted bids to be Amazon’s wildly coveted HQ2. That figure comes from Amazon itself, which made the announcement on its website, including the fact that they came from “54 states, provinces, districts and territories across North America.” The Seattle Times has been tracking cities that have announced their bid, with hopefuls including several in the Bay Area, Las Vegas, Boston and Vancouver, British Columbia, among many others, but there’s still not a lot of publicly available information on what those bids look like — particularly in the area of corporate subsides, a topic that’s arguably very relevant to the public.
Enter Muckrock, a nonprofit that facilitates investigative reporting. Using the Seattle Times’ database, Muckrock has employed Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain and comb over as many bids as possible. It’s certainly not the full 238 — again, the Seattle Times has used only information volunteered by cities. And as of Tuesday, only 20 cities and towns had released the requested documents to the organization. The nonprofit says it’s still trying to figure out where more than 100 bids came from through a crowdsourced effort.
Central to the organization’s interest: those subsidies. To date, most of the coverage on Amazon hopefuls (including, to be fair, our own) has focused on the wild stunts cities are pulling to get noticed by the corporate bigwig, including sending the company a giant cactus and erecting Amazon boxes the size of two-story houses. But financial incentives are what the company really wants. In its RFP, Amazon specifically says it’s looking for: “A stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure,” adding that “incentives offered by the state/province and local communities to offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors in the decision-making process.”
The bids available on Muckrock’s website attempt to answer that call. From Boston’s bid:
The overall level of business taxation in Massachusetts is lower than in most other states, according to a study by Ernst & Young for the Council on State Taxation. Massachusetts sales tax rate is 6.25 percent; food, clothing, sales of periodicals, and admission sales are exempt. The income tax rate is 5.1 percent on both earned income and unearned income; certain capital gains are taxed at 12 percent.
The city’s bid also contains a section called “Investments, Incentives and Initiatives. Yes.” where it touts the “development policy dollars” it could “invest in opportunities that support housing and workforce development to benefit Amazon’s future employees and Boston residents.” They include $75 million for “diverse housing stock,” $13.1 million for “tech talent pipeline grants” and $4 million in “small business loans.” The bid also touts several local property tax incentive tools.
Muckrock points to several things journalists should look for as they comb through the bids, including streamlined environmental review. That’s something that California has put on the bargaining table so far, promising that the state “understands that speed and certainty are two key contributors to successful projects.”
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.