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Experts: Amazon headquarters try good for Little Rock

Benefits seen for later project bids

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Little Rock's attempt to land Amazon's second headquarters will be good experience for the city, two Arkansas economists said Tuesday.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola wrote Monday on Twitter that the city "will Think Big and Be Creative" to attract the technology giant, echoing Amazon's request for proposals that communities "think big and creatively."

Last week, Amazon said it expects to spend more than $5 billion to build a second headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees, who would earn more than $100,000 in total compensation annually.

"Going through the effort to put together a package to put the best face on the city is an investment to try to tackle other [future efforts] in the area as well," said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission declined to comment on a role it might play in the attempt to attract Amazon, a publicly traded U.S. firm and a leading Internet retailer and technology company.

Seattle-based Amazon currently has 380,000 employees at multiple facilities in North America and throughout the world.

The company estimates its investments in Seattle from 2010 to 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city's economy.

Amazon's criteria for its second headquarters include a population of 1 million or more, the ability to attract and retain strong technical talent, and direct access to mass transit. The Little Rock metropolitan area has a population of about 730,000.

Reader poll

Should Little Rock submit an application for Amazon's second headquarters?

  • Yes, it's worth it for a project that could bring great things to the city 67% 169 votes
  • No, the city doesn't fulfill the qualifications and it's not worth the effort 32% 81 votes

250 total votes.

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"It seems like based on the criteria [Amazon] set that we fall a little short," Pakko said. "But it doesn't hurt to put in a bid."

Another Amazon requirement for its new co-headquarters is for the location to be within 45 minutes of an airport with direct international flights, which now are unavailable the city's own airport, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, the state's largest.

Jim Dailey, the chairman of the Little Rock Municipal Airport, which sets policy for the airport, said Tuesday that would change, if necessary, to compete for the Amazon investment.

"If that's what it takes for us to be able to compete, then I can assure you the Little Rock airport is ready to step up to the plate," Dailey told Little Rock television station KATV, Channel 7.

Mervin Jeberaj, interim director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas' Sam M. Walton College of Business, also said it doesn't hurt to submit a bid, adding it could be used as a "measuring stick" for cities like Little Rock.

"A lot of places can use this to say, 'We're not there yet, but what would it take or what do we need to be there at some point in the future? And what steps are we taking?'" Jeberaj said.

Stodola was unavailable for comment Tuesday. He said in a statement that some of Amazon's requirements are challenging, but Little Rock's "talent pool is deep."

"Amazon is looking for strong local and regional talent in software and related fields and is particularly interested in entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunity of the digital economy," Stodola said.

The initial space Amazon requires is 500,000 square feet, but it wants to be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

Amazon has 33 buildings at its headquarters in Seattle with 8.1 million square feet.

Oct. 19 is the deadline to provide proposals. Several cities across the U.S. already have vocalized their intent to put together a proposal for Amazon, including Tulsa and Memphis.

Jeberaj said landing Amazon's second headquarters will have a large economic impact on any city that is selected, adding thousands of high-income jobs.

But he said there are potential pitfalls, as well, such as the availability of affordable housing for cities not prepared.

"The regions that are probably going to be falling over themselves trying to compete for this need to remember that unless they're going to make serious investments in housing -- and, really, that means you want to be able to rezone your cities to have more dense housing -- you're going to import, along with 50,000 jobs, all the problems that the big cities on the West Coast have," Jeberaj said.

Information for this article was contributed by Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 09/13/2017

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