COJ has an attractive profile. Will Amazon swipe right?
Since announcing in September it would be seeking proposals for sites for its second headquarters (HQ2), online retailer/tech giant Amazon received more than 200 bids from 54 cities, states, districts and provinces across North America.
In what “Geekwire” called “the most high-profile and high-stakes corporate headquarters competition in history,” municipalities from Detroit, Michigan to Durham, North Carolina lined up to court the Seattle-based company, offering dowries in the form of tax incentives and exemptions, relocation and workforce grants, utility incentives, fee reductions and promises of a submissive relational approach. Meanwhile Amazon, like a Tinder-user before last call, will judge each potential mate before passively and figuratively swiping left or right.
The City of Jacksonville, hoping to reap the rewards of a partnership with Amazon (namely, an estimated 50,000 J.O.B.’s and a $5-billion-dollar investment from the company), created a neat little video to accompany the city’s proposal. The video, via Jax-based ad agency, Burdette Ketchum, has been making the rounds on social media since being shared at a JaxUSA Partnership luncheon this week.
At just over three and a half minutes, with alluring imagery of the city’s waterways, futuristic renderings of the proposed campus (are those drones flying around the city at 1:16 and 1:31?), and nose-mounted GoPro footage of a surfer wiggling across a Northeast Florida peeler, the clip is a sort of truncated entreaty to billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company.
Accordingly, the video’s youthful, laid-back narration, which is suspiciously devoid of any regionally identifiable accent, employs enough euphemistic language (“Inspired year-round coastal lifestyle”), decontextualized facts and figures (“Highest value, lowest cost structure available”), and uninhibited namedropping (“NFL stadium”) to make anyone with a strong LinkedIn profile proud.
While the kicker — that the city of Jacksonville would give 200-acres of riverfront property to Amazon at no cost — gets buried among the video’s focus-group-tested taglines and charming visuals, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference, as Jacksonville remains a long shot candidate for HQ2, according to many sources familiar with the process.
“While proposals have come from all over the map, it is unlikely that any metro area with fewer than 4 million people will make the grade,” a spokesperson for Dallas-based consulting and research firm, Everest Group, told “Fortune” (Jacksonville’s population is a little over 1.5 million). Everest rated Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Washington D.C. as Amazon’s top candidates. “Only cities of that size are likely to have both the basic infrastructure and base of skilled employees to supply Amazon’s needs.”
Jacksonville would need to think long and hard about rolling out the red carpet for Amazon anyway, as the company has a history of leveraging its brand name, and the promise of jobs, to bend city governments to its will.
From 2005 to 2014, the company received at least $613 million in local government subsidies to build warehouses, and the company is still exempt from sales tax in 16 states, according to a 2016 study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The incentives on offer from cities across the country have become a lightning rod for critics who claim that one of the most powerful tech companies (valued at $474 billion) shouldn’t ask for tax breaks and other government deal-sweeteners from job-hungry cities.
Whether the company will swipe right or left on Jacksonville remains to be seen. And, well-crafted proposal notwithstanding, the video left us with several questions:
- How would HQ2 Jacksonville effect Shad Khan’s Shipyards proposal?
- Speaking of Khan … if, as the billionaire Jaguars owner once posited “a homeless guy in Detroit has more mojo than a millionaire in Jacksonville,” how much mojo would Jeff Bezos (estimated net worth of $98 billion) have?
- Again, what are those things flying around at 1:16 and 1:31?
While he didn’t answer any of the above questions, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry offered the following statement re: the video and the city’s proposal:
“I greatly appreciate and value the work city staff and the chamber have led on the development of this proposal. Proposals are a first step that communicate our genuine interest, commitment, and vision for a project. This Amazon project, like any other project we pursue, will be negotiated against a scorecard to ensure it provides a return to taxpayers and contributes to job growth and economic development. We will continue to work hard on this deal that would result in over 50,000 jobs for Jacksonville.”
It’s not clear exactly when Amazon will reveal the winner — its Request For Proposal simply states that the final decision will take place in 2018.