Amazon HQ2 candidates are going to great lengths to keep their plans secret

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Amazon HQ2 candidates are going to great lengths to keep their plans secret

boston massachusetts

Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock

Boston is one of the 20 remaining contenders for Amazon's HQ2.

  • Amazon narrowed its search for the site of its next headquarters, dubbed HQ2, to 20 cities in January.
  • The majority of these finalists have kept their pitches secret. Even some city officials are complaining that they have been left in the dark, The New York Times reported.
  • As a result, some cities - Newark, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia - are facing lawsuits or pressure from local public-advocacy groups to release information about their bids, on the grounds that any large tax breaks will impact the local population.

It's been nearly a year since Amazon announced it was on the lookout for a second headquarters in the United States, yet the cities on its shortlist are still none the wiser.

In January, Amazon whittled down 238 proposals to a list of 20 sites that are currently in the running for HQ2. A select few, including Boston and Maryland's Montgomery County, have been public about their proposals or the kind of tax incentives they will be offering.

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But the majority haven't, and many city officials are now protesting about being left in the dark.

"I think the lack of transparency of this whole process is galling," Richard Florida, a professor at the School of Cities and the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto told The New York Times. Toronto is on the short list for Amazon HQ2.

He added: "This has to be all out in the public. This is taxpayer money."

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Jared Evans, a member of the City-County Council in Indianapolis, another city shortlisted for HQ2, told The New York Times, that he had been told "absolutely nothing."

"The only time the public may become aware if the city has promised Amazon incentives is if we win and then we need to get those incentives passed," he said.

According to The Times, there are two main reasons for this: First, HQ2 bids are being handled by local private Chambers of Commerce or economic development groups that aren't required to make their pitches public. Second, keeping the details secret is a way to keep their incentives hidden from rivals and avoid the risk of having their ideas poached.

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As a result, some of these cities - including Newark, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia - are facing lawsuits or pressure from local public-advocacy groups to release information about their bids, on the grounds that any large tax breaks will impact the public.

It's not just the cities themselves that are remaining mum on the process. Amazon itself has also remained highly secretive since scoping out the 20 cities earlier this year. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, Amazon officials who visited potential HQ2 sites didn't share their last names or titles when they arrived.

"It's been radio silence," an anonymous economic official from one of the shortlisted cities told the Puget Sound Business Journal.

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Another official whose city is no longer is the running told the publication that Jeff Bezos is "incentive-obsessed."

"His whole team is charged with getting the largest pound of flesh possible out of every jurisdiction they are in," they said.

For the new headquarters, Amazon said it plans to invest over $5 billion and accommodate as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs, making it one of the largest corporate-civic giveaways in modern American history.

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As a result, some of the cities are pulling out all the stops to make sure they are chosen. Maryland put together an $8.5 billion tax incentive and infrastructure bid, and local and state officials in New Jersey got legislative approval to offer Amazon $7 billion in tax credits and incentives to pick Newark, The Times reported.

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