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New spectator sport: Amazon's HQ2 race

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Paul O'Donnell, The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Think again if you expect the craziness around Amazon's second headquarters to die down now that the deadline for proposals came and went.

There'll be HQ2 guessing games about what cities will advance to the next round for "the economic development project of a lifetime," as one corporate relocation expert describes it. (Enter Austin, Atlanta, Denver?)

There'll be people looking for hidden clues in the Seattle-based company's public statements, like what it's choosing to retweet from its @amazon_policy Twitter account. (Take a bow, Dallas, D.C. and Massachusetts?)

There'll be others running background checks on where top Amazon executives grew up, went to college or own homes to see if that tips the scale on a future location. And there's always the flight time between HQ1 and HQ2 to think about.

Ultimately, only Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos truly knows if the decision will be most heavily influenced by geography, politics or tax breaks. (Don't underestimate his Texas connections).

Until then, here's this week's recap of everything else Amazon-o-mania.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola discusses the city's decision to not pursue Amazon's proposed second headquarters at a news conference Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. The city ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post, telling the e-commerce giant: "It's not you, it's us." AP
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola discusses the city's decision to not pursue Amazon's proposed second headquarters at a news conference Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. The city ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post, telling the e-commerce giant: "It's not you, it's us." 
AP

'It's not you'

That's how Little Rock, Ark., described its break up with Amazon in a full-page ad in The Washington Post, the newspaper owned by Bezos. The ad from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce acknowledged it didn't meet many of the criteria Amazon needs for HQ2, including being within 45 minutes of an international airport and providing direct access to mass transit.

"Amazon, you've got so much going for you, and you'll find what you're looking for," the chamber ad said. "But it's just not us."

Big consideration

Amazon's Seattle workforce is famous for its reliance on getting to its downtown campus without using a car. More than 20 percent of them walk to work and less than half drive.

That fondness for alternative forms of transportation is among the tidbits in a Washington Post article on what might happen when Amazon drops almost 50,000 new workers on a community. It also explores the impact on housing prices and infrastructure costs. (That's right, they don't go down.)

Trump factor?

Toronto pops up as a dark-horse candidate largely because Canadian immigration policies are considered to be more tech-friendly. And Bezos is serious about hiring the best and brightest.

But the mayor of Canada's largest city worries Amazon might automatically disqualify it for fear of a backlash from President Donald Trump, according to CBC.

"What is their assessment at Amazon as to whether that is going to be a huge factor that will hurt them because steps will be taken by the administration to punish them for even thinking about this," Mayor John Tory told CBC. "That is a key consideration that will affect whether we are in the top 5 or really not contenders at all."

Trump also might be enough to drive the coveted project over the border, reported an earlier CBC story. It suggested that Trump's "America First" policies and opposition to so-called genius visas could end up hurting U.S. cities bidding for the project.

Tax breaks

Finally, the Wall Street Journal details how Amazon put together a powerhouse team of economic development experts to help it win tax subsidies for its rapid expansion around the country.

Most companies rely on consultants to scout locations and negotiate tax-incentive deals with state and local governments. Instead, Amazon brought those services in-house, the Journal reported.

Mike Grella, who worked at consulting firm PwC, started at Amazon as director of economic development in 2012. He was later joined by Eric Murray, who had worked on real estate and economic development at Lockheed Martin Corp., and Holly Sullivan, who worked on economic development for local governments in Maryland and Tennessee.

Grella scouts locations and deals for the company's cloud-services business. Sullivan is responsible for the rest of the company.

Amazon has built dozens of fulfillment centers in recent years, including 10 open or under construction in Texas, as it expands its e-commerce foothold into virtually everything sold to consumers.

Good Jobs First, a self-described watchdog on the investment wisdom of tax incentives, estimates that Amazon has secured nearly $1 billion in government subsidies since launching its economic development team.

Amazon will spend the next few months poring over hundreds of sites assembled by communities across North America that so badly want the promised $5 billion investment. The company expects to anoint a winner early next year.

FEATURED PHOTO: Zavian Tate, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, pushes a large Amazon Dash button Oct. 16 in Birmingham, Ala. The large Dash buttons are part of the city's campaign to lure Amazon's second headquarters to Birmingham. (Brynn Anderson/AP)