Economic Development Director Mike Meidel tells Pinellas County commissioners in about a chance to have an Amazon headquarters in Tampa Bay.
CLEARWATER – An announcement that Amazon might consider Tampa Bay as a location for a second headquarters in the near future had Pinellas County Commissioners all aglow with excitement Sept. 26.
Economic Development Director Mike Meidel described it as a “tremendous opportunity,” as he talked about Amazon “staging a beauty contest” to find a location for duplicate headquarters.
The winner would get a prize package including $5 billion in capital investment and 50,000 high-wage jobs.
The Seattle-based corporation recently sent out a request for proposals for sites big enough to accommodate 8 million square feet of office space when complete. The initial phase, scheduled to begin in 2019, would involve at least 500,000 square feet.
Amazon wants a single application from each metro area, so St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation and Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation are working together to put together a proposal before the Oct. 19 deadline.
Proposed sites in Tampa Bay are Tropicana Field on 85 acres in St. Petersburg and Water Street in Tampa, a mixed-use development encompassing more than 50 acres in downtown Tampa. Meidel said the proposal could include more than one site within a metro area.
Meidel said Amazon would be looking for incentives “way beyond” the usual “because this project is way beyond.” Incentives would be needed from the state, counties and cities. However, Meidel was quick to point out that the economic growth and job potential would far outweigh any losses in tax revenue.
Another enticement for Amazon to locate in Florida is the lack of personal taxes.
“That’s a huge benefit,” Meidel said, adding that local wage rates were comparable to Seattle.
He said it made sense for Tampa Bay to at least submit an application as the area has several advantages, including being a urban area with a population large enough to support a good workforce base.
“We have a shot at this,” he said.
Another advantage is Tampa International Airport with flights to Latin America, Iceland, Frankfurt and Zurich. Both sites are close to an interstate. Plus Amazon wants a location in either the central or Eastern Time zone to be able to diversify its operations. And it would like to be located near a university.
Of course, the area’s most glaring disadvantage is transit service, which Meidel said would have to be a consideration of any proposal.
“This would be the perfect opportunity to show why we need transit,” he said.
The state wants to see preliminary plans from its metro areas by Oct. 9 so officials can consider what incentives might be available to sweeten the deal. Meidel expects proposals will come from Orlando, as well as areas in south and north Florida.
Any incentive would have to be approved by the legislature, as would any incentives offered at the local levels before negotiations could begin – “if we get to that point,” Meidel said.
“We don’t want to give away more than we are getting,” he said, adding that Amazon generates about 233,000 room nights a year at its Seattle location, which would be a huge boost to the tourism industry.
Meidel said the goal is to get in the top 5-8 for consideration. Competition is expected to be tough with proposals coming in from large metro areas throughout the United States.
Both economic development corporations are working with private partners on the proposals, which Meidel pointed out would not be cheap to produce. He said it would need videos, a website and other documentation.
“This is a tremendous opportunity and would be a huge PR bonus,” Meidel said. “It would show the world we’re competitive.”