Amazon, the nation’s most valuable retailer, recently announced its search for a location to set up their second national headquarters, or HQ2. Dozens of major metropolitan areas are competing to score this Holy Grail of deals, including Tampa Bay.
According to local officials, the addition of Amazon HQ2 will greatly benefit a region, as it plans on creating tens of thousands of jobs, thereby bringing more traffic and money to the city, as well as investing billions of dollars into the surrounding community.
Craig J. Richard, President and CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., says this deal is a game changer.
“The community that wins this project will be transformed by it,” Richard said. “The ripple effect on the regional economy in everything from housing to consumer purchasing would be extraordinary.”
Amazon’s requirements, however, are not easily met.
Access to an international airport. Ideal real estate. Competitive incentive packages. Efficient public transportation. Proximal housing options. All of these are preferences for the Amazon HQ2 location.
Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel is optimistic about Tampa Bay’s prospects in this bidding war.
“I think we can meet everything they need,” said Meidel. “We’re a low cost, business-friendly area…I don’t think we fall down in any (area).”
Tampa Bay also has a diverse community that very much mirrors the population of the United States, says Melissa Zornitta, Executive Director of Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. Additionally, there are a number of qualified prospective workers in the region.
“29% of our population in Hillsborough County is in that age range from 18-34, and of that 29%, 21% have a Bachelor’s degree,” said Zornitta. “So we’ve got a good group of potential employees for them.”
Hillsborough County and Pinellas County are working together in an arguably long-shot effort to have the online titan settle in this area. They are joining forces in an attempt to create a unified region that might appear more appealing to Amazon’s vision. Without regional cooperation, Meidel doesn’t believe Tampa Bay would have a shot.
A location being considered for the site of Amazon HQ2, should they choose the Tampa Bay area, is the 85-acres that Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg sits on.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is also eyeing Amazon. Strategic Property Partners, which is backed by Vinik and Cascade Investment, is spending $3 billion to revitalize more than 50 acres in downtown Tampa as part of the Water Street project.
When asked about Amazon at an event last week at the University of South Florida, Vinik expressed his enthusiasm for its potential settlement in Tampa Bay. However, he doesn’t think the newly developed Water Street will have any problem finding a tenant if the Amazon bid falls through.
“We have no doubt that over the next five to ten years, as our entire project is built out, that companies from around the country are going to be attracted to this great story,” he said.
Meidel admits that Tampa has one major flaw in their bid: the lack of an efficient mass transit system. He credits this to a rider issue, with not many people utilizing it enough to make it imperative. However, he thinks that Amazon settling here would change that.
“50,000 workers trying to get to a central location in an urban area is a perfect opportunity for transit to work,” said Meidel, citing Amazon’s expected employment rates.
According to recent census data, the projected population of the Tampa Bay area by 2030 shows an increase of 500,000 more people then there is today.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to provide the jobs that are needed by the population we know is coming to this area and to create the tax base that will be necessary to provide all those services,” said Meidel.