Governor hints at size of Amazon incentive bid

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - As he sat at the center of an Amazon-sponsored conference on small business empowerment through technology, Governor Eric Holcomb sounded like he was lobbying before the Seattle-based site selection team.

That team is considering which U.S. city will be home to the proposed $5 billion North American Headquarters II and the 50,000 high paying jobs it will bring.

Phrases like, “new way of thinking,” and “move to cool places,” peppered the governor’s comments along with references to the state’s campuses of higher education and its trainable workforce, all priorities, so it is thought, of Amazon’s leadership as it considers which of 20 finalist cities will receive the rose of business and social disruption and upheaval.

“The common themes were the power of people and passion and perseverance and that’s what entrepreneurs are all about and we want to make sure that we are fostering and cultivating a good ecosystem for them to thrive,” said Holcomb after the conference. “And Amazon has figured this out a long time ago, and that is to embrace technology, make commerce easier for all, and that is something for the State of Indiana that we’ve taken a page out of their book.

“We offer a great place to grow, space to grow, obviously our tax and regulatory climates are very attractive and enticing and we want to grow together.”

Last winter, Indianapolis choice as a finalist was a victory in itself as the city bested dozens of other even larger North American locales and proceeded the hard work of crafting an incentive package, incorporating everything from tax breaks and training funds to lifestyle amenities and affordable housing.

Published reports indicate Maryland has put $8.5 billion worth of incentives on the table. Newark has bet $7 billion. Columbus, Ohio, is dangling nearly $500 million in tax enticements in front of the retail and shipping giant.

Indianapolis’ offer, in conjunction with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, is shrouded in secrecy as it is being cobbled together by the Indy Chamber, a private entity beyond the reach of the state’s Open Records Act.

“We’re well equipped to be in the race,” said Holcomb. “And the reason that we are in the race and on the short list or the top twenty is because of our economic attractiveness, the way that we do business, the way that we work with the business community. Our package will be very consistent with all the packages that we have put together in the past for every company that has expressed an interest in locating or expanding an interest here in the State of Indiana."

In 2006, the state offered Honda $141 million in incentives and infrastructure improvements to build an auto plant in Greensburg and hire 2,000 workers.

Infosys recently received $100 million in incentives to develop a quarter-billion dollar training campus for 3000 employees on the property of Indianapolis International Airport.

“We are working hand in hand with the governor and the IEDC in putting together the best package possible and just being creative and innovative in what the city has to offer,” said Indianapolis Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Angela Smith Jones. “The city and the state have absolutely been looking at any and all opportunities regarding any and all incentives.”

Indianapolis’ location at the ”Crossroads of America” affords a company based on fast shipping like Amazon, a key distribution point for the eastern United States, while providing access to an international airport with plenty of property on which to develop an air hub.

The vast expanse of farmland throughout central Indiana, and open property in the city, is a fit for corporate and residential growth.

Indiana has long touted its business friendly environment as one of the first states to scrap sales tax on items shipped from warehouse sites.

Seattle residents have complained that Amazon overwhelmed its home town, driving up congestion and housing costs while attracting a highly educated workforce to well-paying jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

“We do seek to attract companies that pay well above the average pay scale in the State of Indiana so we’ve set very high goals. We set a goal this year to attract companies of $28 hourly wage and we’re getting to that point,” said Holcomb. “The 50,000 potential employees that Amazon will hire at HQ II, when you think about what we did, just the Indiana Economic Development Corporation last year, we did 30,158 jobs. I said that’s good but I want to raise it to 35,000 this year in 2018. We’re on track to break that record.

“That’s 60,000+ jobs in just the last two years, organically grown, growing from the ground up here in the State of Indiana. So we want to compete for all new business, amazon just being another big opportunity.”

Reports from Miami and Chicago are that Amazon’s site selection team has paid a second visit to those two cities in the last couple months.

When announcing its Top 20 list last winter, Amazon indicated it would make a final decision by the end of this year.