Amazon released a list of 20 cities on Thursday which it is considering for its second headquarters, including established technology hubs like Boston and Pittsburgh as well as more surprising choices such as Columbus, Ohio.
The tech company has whittled down its shortlist after a sometimes bizarre bidding process that involved 238 communities across the US, Canada and Mexico. Only one city outside the US, Toronto, has made the cut.
Amazon has claimed its new $5bn headquarters will create 50,000 new jobs and the prospect of securing its favour set off an aggressive charm offensive with cities offering huge tax breaks and even sending gifts, including a giant cactus, to attract the company’s attention. Calgary in Canada offered to change its name to Calmazon or Amagary if it won and a local business group offered to fight a bear to win Amazon’s approval. It did not make the list.
Candidates were asked to give Amazon details of the cities’ education and crime statistics as well as cultural attractions, transport infrastructure and recreational opportunities. The company also asked states to describe the tax incentives it expects them to provide in order to win its favor.
New Jersey officials have offered $7bn in tax incentives if Newark, a financially struggling city, should win. It has made the list. Michigan also promised generous tax breaks and to spend $120m on childcare, educational and other programs to the company to bring it to Detroit. It did not make the list.
But the bidding process has also attracted criticism. “Something is deeply wrong with our economy & democracy when local governments offer up their tax base to a corporation worth over $500 billion,” Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison wrote on Twitter after the news broke
Civic groups too have criticized the huge subsidies being offered to Amazon. In an open letter to Amazon’s founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, 73 civic leaders asked the company to promise quid pro quo for taxpayer support.
“You have your list of things you’re looking for from cities – but we live in these cities, and we’ve got some expectations of our own for Amazon,” the authors wrote. “We love jobs, we love technology, and we love convenience – but what you’re looking for will impact every part of our cities. We built these cities, and we want to make sure they remain ours.”