Here’s what we still don’t know about what Colorado sent Amazon to lure HQ2

Denver economic officials kept some information from the public Thursday when they released the official proposal sent to Amazon.com Inc.

An example of the bid box that Denver sent to Amazon, courting the tech giant to settle their massive HQ2 here. Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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An example of the bid box that Denver sent to Amazon, courting the tech giant to settle their massive HQ2 here. Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) amazon; hq2; development; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
An example of the bid box that Denver sent to Amazon, courting the tech giant to settle their massive HQ2 here. Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver economic officials kept some information from the public Thursday when they released the official proposal sent to Amazon.com Inc. last month outlining why the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth should build in Colorado.

Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. redacted the 77-page document so residents could not see which cities and sites were pitched to Amazon. The proposal shared Thursday also left out the “potential value of incentives” Amazon could get from state programs.

“We never said we were never going to release the proposal. What we said is we were never going to release the confidential site information and the proprietary information,” said J.J. Ament, CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

EDC officials made good on their promise to highlight eight sites in the proposal that would be particularly good for Amazon, but all 30 that met Amazon’s criteria were also included.

“Beyond the sites and communities listed in the initial proposal, Colorado has identified several locations that can support Amazon HQ2, future commercial offices, fulfillment and distribution facilities, data centers and more. These urban and suburban locations are spread throughout the Metro Denver area with close proximity to Denver International Airport, major interstates, universities, transit and over 3.6 million people,” the proposal states.

State officials have consistently claimed that Colorado can’t and won’t be able to compete with other states in terms of offering big tax breaks to attract Amazon.

“Colorado is a performance-based incentive state focused on net new job creation that provides Coloradans and those relocating to Colorado with sustainable opportunities,” the proposal states. “These programs are leveraged in conjunction with county and local incentives. The amounts are subject to adjustment as the project moves forward.”

Amazon announced Sept. 7 that it’s searching for a home for its second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2.” The facility would employ as many as 50,000 people — which would put it on par with the town of Parker in terms of size — and bring more than $5 billion in construction and operations investments.

Denver and other cities in Metro Denver worked with the state and Metro Denver EDC to send Amazon one proposal from Colorado.

What we still don’t know

Metro Denver EDC did not share information Thursday about the sites where Amazon could go. Tom Clark headed up the EDC from 2003 until earlier this year and said at a panel at the Denver Press Club this week that secrecy has long been a staple of the organization.

“We’ve done it for years because it’s good practice. We’ve had companies turn on us. We almost lost Vestas by a staff person up north shooting that (information) off to several people,” Clark said.

Some local government organizations like Boston and Chula Vista, California published their proposals online and others like Chicago shared their proposed sites. Economic development officials in Aurora, Broomfield and Denver haven’t been so transparent, declining to share the sites they sent the state. Officials from those cities also say they are unsure if their proposed sites made it into the final proposal.

Sharing the site information would not help Denver’s chances of getting Amazon, said Turid Nagel-Casebolt, director of business development at Denver Office of Economic Development.

“We do feel it would jeopardize our competitiveness. And it could have a profound impact on land and property values surrounding any site that may be under consideration,” Nagel-Casebolt told Denverite this week.

Some people are worried about the possibility of Amazon moving near their neighborhood considering the influence the facility could have on traffic, land values, displacement and gentrification.

“We are collecting voices in support and paying close attention to voices that raise concern as we continue down this path,” Nagel-Casebolt said. “We have to be very thoughtful in our responses to address both the opportunity and the all the concerns that come with it.”

The idea of Colorado subsidizing bringing in such a massive project concerns former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm. The Democrat famously led Colorado’s successful charge against the 1976 Winter Olympics.

“Who wins the Olympics of tax avoidance?” Lamm said. “It’s Amazon. They’re notorious for it all over the country.”

Amazon negotiated more than $1.24 billion in subsidies from state and local governments to help build out a massive U.S. fulfillment and delivery network, according to an investigation by the American City Business Journals.

Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm speaks about Amazon at the Denver Press Club, Nov. 13, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; dick lamm;
Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm (right) and Former CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Tom Clark speak about Amazon at the Denver Press Club, Nov. 13, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Why even bother?

Clark has worked before on deals trying to bring major headquarters, or as he calls them “elephants” and “behemoths,” including The Boeing Co., Ziff Davis and The Home Depot Inc.

“In my view, you get a less quality return on investment when you get a big elephant, you’re much better to get a really big airport,” he said.

Still, Clark said Amazon is worth going after.

“This is a company that’s a pretty good company. And to be honest with you, they used to be assholes. I dealt with them when they were assholes. They would just sweep everybody out of the way, beat up on everybody and demand all kinds of stuff. They’re not that company anymore because they realized that’s not the way you do business,” he said.

For Denver, Nagel-Casebolt said it’s a chance to bring attention to the area.

“From an economic development perspective, any time we have an opportunity to provide a positive narrative about our community, it’s a win for us,” she said.

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Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.