Colorado’s next steps in Amazon race: Stay focused, answer questions, keep secrets

Colorado’s still in the hunt for Amazon’s HQ2 (and its 50,000 jobs). Here’s what Colorado leaders say they have to do next.

Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation Vice President Sam Bailey speaks at a meeting on Denver's bid for Amazon HQ2 at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation Vice President Sam Bailey speaks at a meeting on Denver's bid for Amazon HQ2 at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) amazon; hq2; development; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Vice President Sam Bailey speaks at a meeting on Denver’s bid for Amazon HQ2 at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver edged out more than 200 communities on Thursday to be named a finalist for Amazon’s second North American headquarters. Now the next leg in the race for the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth’s HQ2 project begins.

Amazon.com Inc. plans to spend the next few months talking to officials in the Mile High City and the other 19 metros that are still in the running for HQ2. The company is expected to name its winner later this year.

Sam Bailey will be one person working with the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. to push Colorado past the finish line. Bailey is vice president of economic development for the business organization and worked this fall with officials along the Front Range to send Colorado’s initial proposal for Amazon HQ2.

Bailey and Metro Denver EDC received an email from Amazon early Thursday morning letting the organization know Denver advanced to the company’s short list.

“We were genuinely excited,” Bailey said. “We’re in the process of setting up a lengthier discussion with Amazon to discuss the finer details of the second round.”

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)
The finer details of the second round

Bailey said Metro Denver EDC is planning to keep its role as chief “economic development concierge” for Colorado’s bid for Amazon. The organization would work with the governor’s office as well as the state economic development department and communities along the Front Range to put together another professional document and/or presentation for HQ2.

“If we want to maintain the quality of information, and really show Amazon that we’re serious, we want to deliver to them our best product possible,” Bailey said. “As we proceed down this route with Amazon, we’ll be catering our response to really answer their questions but also make sure that those themes and pillars we focused on the initial proposal are translated because we really believe they’re strong assets for Colorado’s competitive position.”

In the proposal, Metro Denver EDC touted the area’s educated workforce, local and global accessibility and support for businesses as reasons Amazon should pick the Colorado. Bailey said he expects Amazon to ask for more information about the communities under consideration and the talent in the area.

A map of Amazon HQ2 candidates. (Amazon)
A map of the 20 finalists for Amazon.com Inc’s second North American headquarters. (Courtesy of Amazon.com Inc.)

Eleven East Coast metros —including Atlanta, Boston, Miami and New York City — are in the running with Denver. Los Angeles is the only city west of Colorado that was named. And Toronto is the only place outside of the U.S. being considered.

“Amazon will work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate the company’s hiring plans as well as benefit its employees and the local community,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon announced the search for a home for its second North American headquarters in September. The facility would employ as many as 50,000 people and bring more than $5 billion in construction and operations investments.

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;
Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm spoke against cities providing incentives to lure Amazon at the Denver Press Club, Nov. 13, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

State officials will not publicly say how much Amazon could receive in incentives. The sites up for consideration in Colorado have also been kept secret. Those details will likely remain hidden as the race for the company continues.

It’s up to Amazon to decide how much it wants to make public, Bailey said.

“They’ve been very public in this process, but I think in our next communication we will better understand how the company wants to move through the process — whether they want to be public or not so much,” he said. “We’ll want to stay tuned to what they decide.”

This second round is not when Colorado puts a big bag of money on the table to lure Amazon, said Yuriy Gorlov, vice president of business development for the Aurora Economic Development Council.

“It’s not like we won’t offer them incentives,” Gorlov said. “We’re going to come up with a lot of money. It’s a big project. It generates a lot of new taxes so we’re able to rebate a lot of those taxes back.”

But he said the state only offers performance-based incentives focused on jobs and those dollars are limited by regulations and calculations.

Gorlov was on the team that helped Aurora land the Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers that opened in the city within the last three years. He said he never felt Amazon was pitting Aurora against other cities in the area for its projects.

“Amazon, obviously, knows what it’s doing,” he said. “And it’s been fantastic working with them, actually. I don’t say that with all the projects we end up landing.”

Amazon's campus in Seattle in both the downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Photographed from the roof of Amazon's Port 99 building. (Jordan Stead/Amazon)
Amazon’s campus in Seattle in both the downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods. Photographed from the roof of Amazon’s Port 99 building. (Jordan Stead/Amazon)
Concerns remain

People in metro Denver have raised concerns about what thousands of more people could mean for the area’s roads and housing stock. A national survey recently showed less than half of Denver thinks Amazon HQ2 would be good for Colorado. And lawmakers along the Front Range are hearing a rising anti-growth sentiment.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was measured in his response Thursday to Amazon shortlisting the area.

“Together with our state and regional partners, we look forward to continuing to explore this opportunity with Amazon to determine if we are the right fit for each other,” Hancock said in a statement.

Kerron Stokes, a broker with RE/MAX Leaders in Centennial, said there could be short-term negative consequences on infrastructure if Amazon picks Denver. Communities in the area would have to work together to address housing and displacement.

“Ultimately, it’s going to take a lot of community leadership, a lot of city leadership, business leadership and the real estate community as a whole to make sure we’re working with those who are already owning in our communities as well as those that aspire to be apart of those communities,”  Stokes said.

“We have to have that healthy balance and maybe (Amazon) is the catalyst for forcing that dialogue event further to the surface which is a good thing,” he added.

Bailey said Metro Denver EDC does not need to counter the negative narrative during its second round with Amazon.

“We’re inviting Amazon to join us,” he said, “not saying, ‘We’re going to make all these transformational changes and pass new legislation to accommodate you.’ But, ‘Here’s all the investments we’ve made as a community. Here’s how you can join us to continue this community’s growth.'”

What people in Colorado are saying:

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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.