City, County Withdraw Bid for Amazon’s New Headquarters

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An Amazon worker organizes packages in a shipping container at the Amazon Fulfillment Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

An Amazon worker organizes packages in a shipping container at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Schertz.

City and County officials announced late Wednesday that they are pulling out of the pursuit of Amazon’s planned second headquarters, explaining that despite its competitive advantages, San Antonio will not “mortgage [its] future” to win the bid.

In a joint letter to Amazon CEO and Chairman Jeff Bezos, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Amazon’s request-for-proposals process initially prompted City and County staffs to embrace competing for the $5 billion project. Amazon’s proposed “massive urban campus” would have had a major transformative impact on the region, they wrote.

But, ultimately, San Antonio removed itself from what Nirenberg and Wolff called “a bidding war,” choosing instead to focus on improving roads, mass transit, and the city’s international airport as part of a longterm strategy to enhance the area’s economic development portfolio.

Nirenberg and Wolff wrote that the City and County want to follow a careful path toward smart growth and resiliency. “Sure, we have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style,” they wrote.

The San Antonio Express-News first reported the news of San Antonio’s decision to drop out of the competition on Wednesday afternoon. City and County officials later released the letter to Bezos.

To read the full letter, click here.

The Seattle-based company announced on Sept. 8 that it was requesting proposals from communities across North America as part of a process to develop its new campus. Amazon pledged that the sprawling headquarters – or HQ2, as it is called – would be equal to the Seattle campus in size and bring more than 50,000 new high-paying jobs that average more than $100,000 in yearly salary. Proposals to the e-commerce giant were due on Oct. 19.

Amazon issued some requirements for an ideal home for HQ2, including that the host city have a minimum population of 1 million, an international airport, and a “stable and business-friendly environment.”

The project would likely benefit from a set of tax and economic development incentives not only from the winning host city, but from that state, too.

In the letter to Bezos, Nirenberg and Wolff noted that San Antonio “has had a long history of successfully attracting and retaining global companies by smartly finding the right mix of incentives and opportunities to make our community the perfect location for long-term investment.”

In an interview with the Rivard Report Wednesday, Wolff described serious competition between local and state governments in the race to win over the world’s most renowned online retailer.

According to a CNN report, for example, New Jersey’s leaders were considering a law that could overhaul a current incentive program. If approved, the state could offer Amazon up to $5 billion in tax breaks spread out over 20 years.

The city council of Stonecrest, Georgia, voted that it would de-annex 345 acres of land and call the land “Amazon, Georgia” if it were awarded the project.

“I am disappointed we did not discuss pursuing Amazon’s new headquarters,” Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) stated in a Thursday press release. “I am not in favor of giving away the bank to lure corporate giants by any means. However, we could have been thoughtful, measured and aggressive within the goals and culture of the future we want for our San Antonio.”

Wolff said the County and City should concentrate on investing in a diversified workforce pipeline through public-private sector initiatives such as SA Works.

“We just thought it was an unreasonable expenditure of taxpayers’ money to get into a high-stakes game like this,” Wolff added.

Wolff said it would be like “giving away the store” if San Antonio and Bexar County were to offer an inordinate amount of local incentives while also maintaining infrastructure and workforce investments.”

“We know it’s going to cost money with or without [Amazon],” he added.

The County judge also said he would prefer to wait and see whether Amazon or other large-scale companies end up seeing San Antonio as a viable place to do business after local infrastructure and workforce improvements are realized.

Nirenberg agreed with Wolff’s sentiment, that the City should not rely on incentives to attract companies such as Amazon. “We would welcome Amazon, but we aren’t going to mortgage our future to do it,” he told the Rivard Report.

Nirenberg has made it known he, too, wants to prioritize infrastructure improvements and workforce development. The mayor announced this week that cybersecurity business executive John Dickson will lead a 20-member committee to study air transportation options, including possible expansion of the current San Antonio International Airport. A lack of nonstop flights to major destinations, especially for business travelers, has long been a major concern for local leaders.

Economic Development Foundation President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said in a statement that the project would not be the best use of City and County incentives.

“We know that Amazon and San Antonio are culturally compatible and that we both have eyes strategically set on the future,” Saucedo-Herrera said.

“Smart growth, municipal resiliency and connectivity are areas we plan for and invest in today,” Saucedo-Herrera said in the statement. “Our decision regarding the Amazon [Request for Proposals] serves as a testament to our dedication to be good stewards of the economic incentives San Antonio has to offer businesses.”

 

Rocio Guenther contributed to this story.

15 thoughts on “City, County Withdraw Bid for Amazon’s New Headquarters

  1. Sour grapes. It would have been better to accept that SA stood no chance against a host of truly large cities. Imagine the “7th largest US city” bowing out without even competing.

    • San Antonio is 24th largest MSA, smaller than Orlando but larger than Portland Or. We need to spend our time and effort building our capacity to service the growth we are going to get from in migration and population growth. Companies follow skilled workforces and retail follows rooftops.

  2. The city doesn’t want to give a lot of peeks to Amazon to lure jobs here, but they have no problem voting themselves a $39 million renovation to city hall.

  3. the real reason for the withdrawal is that they know SA doesn’t have the transit infrastructure, housing and workforce that Amazon needs – it would be a waste of their time to apply

  4. I wish they would just own the fact that our joke of a city doesn’t have what it takes to lure a company like Amazon. Hell! We lost a sriracha plant.

    All of the world-class city garbage is just dumped on us by the powers at be to make us sleep better at night. We are a southern version of Cleveland. Plain and simple.

      • @Viva San Antonio we should be open to listening other people’s opinions instead of dismissing them.
        Emily is entitled to voicing her opinions as a tax paying San Antonio resident.

        • Well, you know what they about everyone having an opinion… But Emily does have a 1st amendment right to express herself, and Viva SA has the same right to refute Emily’s opinion.

          I would be interested to hear what Emily thinks would make San Antonio less like Cleveland what city she would prefer we be compared to. Whining and ragging on San Antonio does nothing to improve the city.

    • Silly Emily, the Sriracha plant was never moving. Just because the idea was suggested doesn’t mean you lost out on it. Remember when one councilman suggested the city try to attract SxSW? It doesn’t mean SA lost out on that because it was never going to happen.

      I would agree that probably in this case the idea of Amazon selecting San Antonio is similar to Jim Carrey’s character responding to 1 in a million with “So you’re saying there’s chance!”

      It’s makes sense to not put the energy into pursuing this because they were probably the longest of long shots. But did they really need to make public the Jimmy Stewart like letter?

      “You’ve done all these great things and we think you’re swell. Well, dogonnit’ we’re swell too! We don’t think it’s right pitting us against one another, so we’re not going to play this game. We’re going to keep on being the best we can be. It’ll be great, you’ll see! We’d love to have you along, but if not we’ll both be fine. We wish you the best. Good day.”

      Is Bezos supposed to read that and think “I like their gumption. Get Ronnie on the phone!”? Bow out with a professional tone and pursue something that makes sense (sriracha > ‘that.thing’ > Amazon).

      The city should work on quality of life for the people that want to live and invest in the city. Start by ending annexation and fixing from the middle out all the infrastructure needs (including mass transit). It’ll be swell, you’ll see!

  5. There woukd have been more of a chance to get the Musk battery factory than meet Amazon’s need for a large number of high tech workers and good airport connections. No one will want to move to Texas from Seattle because they cant get pot or walk to work. I say they pick Denver or Boston although Denver has more available space.

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