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Science & Technology

Amazon's 2nd Headquarters: Cities Make Their Final Pitches

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Last night, the Empire State Building lit up in a burnt orange color. New York City officials were hoping that executives at Amazon would recognize their corporate colors. This kind of flattery has been going on for six weeks now all over the country as cities try to lure Amazon's second headquarters. The company has made today the deadline for bids, and NPR's Alina Selyukh here to update us. Hey there, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi, how are you?

M. KELLY: So how many cities exactly have thrown their hats in the ring here?

SELYUKH: I think it's pretty much every major metropolitan area. My inbox has been flooded with press releases about cities pulling all kinds of stunts. You've got Kansas City mayor buying a thousand items on Amazon, giving them five-star reviews. Tucson sent a giant cactus in a truck up to Seattle. There was a dramatic offer from a suburb of Atlanta to create a whole city named Amazon.

M. KELLY: Not subtle efforts here.

SELYUKH: Cities are truly enamored. Amazon is promising 50,000 jobs, an average salary of a hundred thousand dollars. But also, this is one of the fastest-growing companies out there. So there's definitely the sense that if you nab the Amazon HQ2 you're buying into the future.

M. KELLY: And when you say buying, I mean, aside from giant cactuses and lighting up buildings in different colors, are cities throwing money at this bid as well?

SELYUKH: That's been a big part of the conversation. When Amazon asked cities to pitch themselves, the company asked for all kinds of information - you know, how far is the airport? How's the university scene? But also, there is this direct ask for essentially taxpayer-funded subsidies. And this is pretty common. Companies regularly pit states and cities against each other like that. But so far with Amazon, the public response has been mixed. On the most extreme end there is an example from New Jersey. They're offering up to $7 billion in tax incentives for a project in which Amazon...

M. KELLY: Seven billion, wow.

SELYUKH: For a project that Amazon itself has pledged to invest $5 billion in.

M. KELLY: What about, Alina, smaller cities that maybe don't have that kind of money to throw at this bid? Is there any shot this might go to somewhere that's not a big city on the coast?

SELYUKH: Some cities are hoping for that. There's one city in particular that I actually think about quite often. It's Gary, Ind. It's a small legacy steel town. And the mayor there took out an ad in The New York Times that honestly read like an SOS. They were saying, we totally get it. We're a far-fetched choice. But isn't America the land of far-fetched successes?

And to me, that's a very interesting undercurrent that's running through this, this deep hope that maybe Amazon would make a choice that's sentimental, decide to build a second headquarters not somewhere on the coast where frankly 50,000 tech jobs might happen with or without Amazon, but in a place like Detroit or Indianapolis or Gary, Ind., where it could lift a whole community.

M. KELLY: Realistically, though, how likely is that to happen? I mean, Amazon is a business. They're going to make a business decision.

SELYUKH: Amazon as an emotional company is hard to imagine. Honestly, my image of Amazon selecting a city is like a room with spreadsheets being crunched by computers. But I did get a different kind of image of Amazon from Dow Constantine. He's the executive of King County in Washington state. His office is just blocks away from the Seattle headquarters. And he says Amazon is just now figuring out its role as a corporate citizen the same way Microsoft did 20 years ago. Here's what he said.

DOW CONSTANTINE: I'm very confident that Amazon is going to continue to grow its business and continue to grow as a major social and civic player.

SELYUKH: And he really is sticking to that belief. He and a neighboring county are going to bid for the second headquarters as well.

M. KELLY: And do we have any idea when Amazon might announce their decision?

SELYUKH: My expectation - early to mid-next year.

M. KELLY: All right. Thanks, Alina.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

M. KELLY: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh updating us on today's deadline for cities to bid for Amazon's second headquarters.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIL SUPA SONG, "LUZ") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.