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No gimmicks in play for Loudoun County as it tries to land Amazon’s HQ2

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. Courtesy Photo/Amazon.com
Sending Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a giant cactus is just one of the quirky ideas a locality has tried in hopes of landing Amazon's new headquarters.

Joe Snell, a business leader with an economic development group in Tucson, was behind shipping the giant cactus to Bezos. Snell told The New York Times the cactus was symbolic of the region's people, which he described as growing, adaptive and durable.

The cactus was returned to Tucson by Amazon, who thanked Snell but said it couldn't accept gifts.

Would-be Amazon locations are putting forward increasingly creative proposals. Jeff Cheney, the mayor of Frisco, Tex., a city in development and a half-hour drive from Dallas, has offered to build his city around Amazon.

Mayor of Washington, D.C. Muriel Bowser appears in a another video asking Alexa, the Amazon virtual assistant, “Where is the most interesting company in the world going to locate?” Alexa answers, “Obviously, Washington D.C.”

Bezos may agree – he already has a house in the District and purchased the Washington Post in 2013.

Applications for Amazon's $5 billion HQ2 are due Oct. 19, and keen bidders are doing everything they can to stand out from the crowd.

Increasingly it seems nothing is off limits when it comes to attracting Amazon to set up shop. The second headquarters will become home to 50,000 employees, enough incentive in itself for cities and states to employ some major marketing techniques.

So what is the situation in Virginia and, in particular, Loudoun County?

While there are no obvious bells and whistles surrounding any bids, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has already taken steps and hired a private consultant. Speaking at an elementary school in Norfolk shortly after Amazon's announcement that it would be expanding, McAuliffe said Virginia is a legitimate contender, citing the state's central location on the East Coast as one of several advantages.

Buddy Rizer, Loudoun County Economic Development's executive director, is taking the lead on the bid.

When asked this week if there were any novel ideas in the pipeline to impress Amazon, Lois Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for Loudoun County Economic Development, said it was their policy to not discuss in the press any deals that are currently being worked on. “We don't have an update at this time,” said Kirkpatrick.

At a Board of Supervisors finance committee meeting Sep. 12, Rizer said he didn't believe press coverage would be the tipping point in getting a deal done.

“I always caution this deal is not going to be won in the media. It's going to be won by great communities, a great site, with a workforce and a great business case to tell,” Rizer said. “So we're going to do our best to come up with something pretty special for that.”

Judging by its eight-page RFP, unique proposals are not the central thing on Amazon's mind.

The list of physical and social assets that bidders should meet are vast and include: A metro area of at least one million people; an international airport no more than 45 minutes away; mass transit service and major highways; a highly educated labor pool; a strong university system; good cellphone and fiber coverage; abundant and affordable housing; and a political and social culture that supports a “diverse population” and “overall high quality of life.”

Amazon also requires a lot more, in the form of subsidies, tax incentives and public grants. The RFP states,“We acknowledge a project of this magnitude may require special incentive legislation … for the state/province to achieve a competitive proposal.”

Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who's also working on the pitch, said he couldn't go into specific details about what the pitch is going to include.

“There's a healthy competition going on with other jurisdictions. It wouldn't be advantageous for us to go into details,” he said.

However, he told the Times-Mirror Loudoun checks off nearly each item listed in the RFP, and there are certain broad themes the pitch will focus on such as Loudoun's highly skilled workforce. He also said it will tell a story of the greater Washington area, the excellent colleges and talent pool Loudoun is able to draw additional employees from.

He did confirm no cactus or any other gifts would be sent from Loudoun to Bezos in a bid to catch Amazon's attention.

“We know the Amazon community very well. It is not as much of an introduction for us as it is for some other cities and states. Every jurisdiction is going to try and put its best foot forward. This type of competition is not going to be won by a presentation – it's going to come down to what is the best fit for Amazon and exactly what they want,” Letourneau said.

He said the extension of Metro's Silver Line means Loudoun is well placed in having sites adjacent to Metro that could be developed by Amazon.

“If we hadn't been part of the Silver Line project, we couldn't have even competed in the bidding process,” Letourneau added.

As to whether Loudoun will be aligning itself with any other jurisdictions like Arlington in the bidding process, Letourneau said he wasn't going to discuss that.

Tony Howard, president and CEO of Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, said while gimmicks “might catch the eye of the good folks at Amazon,” he believes at the end of the day it's a business decision. “They are going to be looking at hard, cold business facts. Amazon's really good at business fundamentals,” he said.

Like Letourneau, Howard sees Amazon already having an existing relationship with Loudoun County as a major plus. Amazon has several data centers operating in Loudoun County.

Howard believes “workforce fundamentals” will be something Amazon cares about when choosing the best location. In this respect, he sees Loudoun County as having a unique selling position.

“There's a highly educated workforce here, it's the gateway to the nation's capital, and there aren't that many places in the country that have such a great quality of life, with a rural economy, wine country and horse country in the west and suburban facilities in the east and near to an airport,” Howard said.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is expected to vote this week on a proposal to offer up Metro development sites as part of the D.C. region’s bid to win HQ2. It's thought Metro could offer up several joint development sites that could be included as part of a land parcel to meet Amazon's build-out requirements.

Arlington County and Maryland's Prince George's and Montgomery counties are also weighing their options when it comes to bid structures.

Is Amazon impressed by the efforts being made so far?

“We’re energized by the response,” Adam Sedo, an Amazon spokesman, told the New York Times. “We invited cities to think big, and we are starting to see their creativity.”

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @ChantalleNews.


Have to agree with Sky Prince. IF Amazon wanted to move to Northern VA wouldn’t Fairfax County specifically Tysons make more sense? That is where all the “big guns” are currently.

And per the article a requirement is ” abundant and affordable housing” . Loudoun (and Fairfax) have a BIG STRIKE OUT on that one. 

Sorry Freddy Sanford…Amazon has already focused on three spots..and LoCo is not among them! The poor decisions of the past BOS sealed the fate of LoCo…ain’t no Amazon coming here!! Take that to the bank!!

Time for everybody to get use to the idea that Loudoun is growing and that every business in the country is looking to setup an office here. That means more homes, schools, jobs, roads, traffic, etc.

If you don’t like it, move to SouthWest Virginia. You’ll find plenty of negative growth there and all the peace and quiet your heart desires.

What makes anyone think Amazon employees would be living in western Loudoun? 

They’d probably be living in eastern Loudoun and Western Fairfax.

Maybe they can use AOL dial up service?

We do not need Amazon. Traffic is bad now. Do we want Loudoun County to become another Fairfax County where every available space is developed? Amazon employees will need a place to live which means us taxpayers will be on the hook for more roads and schools. I would like to see some numbers where us taxpayers are going to be better off.

Loudoun has so much to sell:

1. Nearly all of its officials are in federal court under civil rights charges.

2. Unlike Amazon, which uses analytics as a core strategy, LCPS refuses to use any data-driven instruction and evaluation.

3. Chair Phyllis Randall, prosecutor Plowman and multiple school board members oppose citizens being able to freely engage in policy discussions online.

4. Loudoun got swindled out of $B’s in future funding reqts by the Metro compact (maybe that’s a plus given Amazon is looking to pull one over on localities too)

5. LCPS scored below other comparably affluent schools from around the world in math, science and reading on the PISA test and their teachers were much less likely to “care about the well-being” of their students.

So if Amazon wants a place where their employees’ children will underachieve and be exposed to higher rates of suicide, where employees will be muzzled if they speak out against local corrupt politicians, and where data is ignored by the aggressively ignorant pols, Loudoun is their ideal place.

Amazon employees would love living in western Loudoun, where broadband internet is not available.

Amazon didn’t list broadband availability as a requirement, obviously never imagining that some places still do not have it.

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