Amazon Here? Local Leaders May Give It a Long Shot

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber is exploring how the Mahoning Valley might compete for online retail giant Amazon’s proposed second headquarters.

The Seattle company’s promise of a $5 billion investment has metropolitan areas around the country putting together proposals in advance of its Oct. 19 deadline for submissions.

According to the request for proposals on the Amazon corporate website, the company would hire as many as 50,000 full-time employees to staff the complex, with annual average pay exceeding $100,000. It will consider greenfield sites, infill sites, existing buildings or a combination of such for the project.

“That would absolutely change what we’re doing in every way you can think about it,” James Dignan, chief operating officer of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, said Tuesday.

Preferred criteria, according to the request for proposals, include:

  • Metropolitan areas of more than one million people.
  • Stable and business-friendly environment.
  • Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.
  • Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.

Amazon’s criteria are “pretty stringent,” Dignan said. He put the population of the metropolitan area at around 650,000, for example, far below the one million population preferred in Amazon’s RFP.

“We’re having conversations with our local leadership to determine what the next step might be,” said Sarah Boyarko, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. The Mahoning Valley could be competitive on “a variety of the requirements.”

Boyarko anticipates a meeting with local leaders within the next two weeks to discuss what might be contained in a proposal to Amazon, after which there would be more information regarding any next step.

The chamber is working through Amazon’s “preferred process” of going through state government to submit proposals, she said. JobsOhio, the state’s economic development arm, has “an ongoing relationship” with Amazon, which announced plans Monday for a fourth Ohio fulfillment center, she said.

Amazon “communicated this was the process that we need to follow to keep this organized,” she remarked.

“They’re looking for creative ideas on how you can envision something that could be like [Amazon’s] campus in Seattle,” Dignan added. “We can tell them we’re working with everyone in our region — from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. We can build a model that would fit what they need. The question is: What are their real criteria and what are their unspoken criteria that they’re looking for in a new headquarters for Amazon?”

Amazon’s Seattle campus is composed of 33 buildings for a total of 8.1 million square feet. Features include 24 restaurants and eight other services on site.

Site requirements include proximity within 30 miles of a population center, 45 minutes to an international airport, not more than two miles to major highways and arterial roads, and at-site access to mass transportation. A building would need to be more than 800,000 square feet initially in 2019, and up to 8 million square feet by 2027 and beyond.

Amazon will consider existing buildings of at least 500,000 square feet that meet core requirements; greenfield sites of approximately 100 acres – not necessarily contiguous but in proximity to “foster a sense of place and be pedestrian-friendly” — certified or pad ready, with utility infrastructure in place; and other infill, existing buildings, including opportunities for renovation/development and greenfield sites that meet proximity and logistics requirements of the project.

“Can we meet the intent of the criteria? Are there some things we can do to address that?” Dignan said. “We’re working on all those to try and see whether we can put together a winning proposal.” The Valley is “a community in the rebuilding phase” and can address many of the issues raised in the Amazon RFP, he said. “None of those items are showstoppers for us,” he said.

“It’s going to be enormous for whatever community” is selected, Mayor John McNally said.

McNally, who discussed Amazon with Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber, yesterday afternoon, questioned why any of the  communities are “beholden to JobsOhio” to submit proposals.

“I don’t think we should be specifically saying we have to go through one group or another,” he said. “It certainly sounds like a way to limit things..

“No matter what entity submits an application, for an area like ours, meeting the requirements that are in place is going to be tough sledding.”

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