Minnesota rushes to bid for 2nd Amazon headquarters

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota is joining what’s sure to be a nationwide scramble to land Amazon’s plans for a second headquarters.

The Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth said Thursday’s it’s on the hunt for a second location, promising to spend $5 billion and hire up to 50,000 employees. The company is looking for a metropolitan site where it can recruit technological talent, with mass transit and easy access to a major airport. Amazon is accepting bids through next month and expects to decide early next year.

So as the state prepares its bid, what does Minnesota have to offer?

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On the plus side

Call it Minnesota exceptionalism, but state and local leaders swear the Twin Cities are a perfect fit.

The state’s economy has been rock solid for years. Housing costs are low compared to many other big cities. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is never more than a short drive away.

Minnesota is already home to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including Target, Best Buy, 3M and UnitedHealth. And Amazon is already here, in a small way, with a distribution center in Shakopee and a small tech outpost in downtown Minneapolis.

“Amazon has already seen the benefits of Minnesota’s well-educated and world-class workforce, who live and work in strong communities with a high quality of life,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement directing his administration to begin assembling a proposal.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, head of the Minnesota High Tech Association, said the state can offer a unique blend: A ready workforce of highly trained technological workers and an alluring spot to woo even more from out of state.

Yeah, but …

The Twin Cities has a transit network that Amazon deems essential, but its two light-rail lines look puny compared to other, larger cities. And the current plans of expanding those offerings have been mired in politics for years.

State officials and the region’s economic development association, Greater MSP, started meeting Thursday morning to discuss a potential bid. Greater MSP spokesman Mike Brown said finding the combination of the massive footprint Amazon requires — up to 8 million square feet — with adequate transit options will be a major challenge.

A constant topic in the halls of the Legislature, the state’s tax climate could be an issue, too. Minnesota ranks among the highest for both its personal income taxes and corporate tax rates.

What about the money?

State and local officials are no strangers to wooing businesses, nor the financial sweeteners to help secure a deal.

It’s too early to say what the state and city governments might offer, but any taxpayer-backed incentive package for Amazon would likely dwarf the state’s previous efforts. In 2013, for example, Dayton’s administration quietly organized more than $15 million in taxpayer subsidies, including a forgivable loan, to land a major pharmaceutical company’s expansion.

The rush to recruit Amazon comes on the heels of Wisconsin’s successful bid to recruit electronics manufacturer Foxconn’s first U.S.-based plant. The Wisconsin Legislature is expected to hold a final vote on a $3 billion incentive package next week.

Dayton is meeting with state economic development officials Friday. Anderson Kelliher, a former Democratic House speaker, encouraged lawmakers to think big-picture about how much a company like Amazon could change Minnesota.

“An Amazon headquarters is a different animal than a lot of the types of jobs that you can bring to a state,” she said. “I like the upside of this one a lot.”