Texas cities also woo Amazon with diversity, arts, sunshine

By DIANA HEIDGERD Markets Associated Press

Economic incentives are expected to be major selling points for a number of Texas cities making pitches to Amazon for the Seattle-based company's second headquarters and the estimated 50,000 jobs that would come with it.

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Formal proposals are due to the company Thursday.

The Associated Press recently spoke with business leaders around Texas to find out why they believe their respective cities would provide the best fit for Amazon.

Here's a look at their responses:

AUSTIN:

Mike Berman, a spokesman for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, says the region is especially appealing to Amazon because it's the kind of place where everybody can fit in.

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"Austin is cool and innovative and extremely accepting and diverse," he said.

Amazon already has a large presence in the area, including about 3,000 workers at a distribution center in nearby San Marcos, Berman said. Amazon also recently purchased Austin-based Whole Foods.

But beyond a vibrant economy and a growing population of qualified workers — it's a great place to live, Berman said.

"It's an exceptional quality of life. Live music, festivals, sports, parks, lakes, biking. We're a big foodie friendly community," he said. "It's a very active and easy-going lifestyle, 300 days of sunshine, very pleasant."

DALLAS:

Kourtny Garrett, the CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., cited the area's business climate as a draw for Amazon, plus the low cost of living and the region's light rail system.

"Downtown Dallas is a completely new destination over the last decade. We've had over 110 percent residential growth, we have a very strong base of young, educated talent and an environment that is culturally rich and fun," Garrett said.

The downtown Dallas area has about 200 restaurants, plus the largest urban arts district in the country, Garrett said. The Dallas Museum of Art is on the west, the Klyde Warren Park area to the north, One Arts Plaza is the eastern anchor and then on the south side the Arts District extends to the Ross Avenue and San Jacinto corridors.

"I think the recreational aspects of Dallas are often overlooked," Garrett said.

She cited the Trinity River Audubon Center, numerous trails and four signature parks — with four more planned over the next five years.

HOUSTON:

Bob Harvey, president & CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, praised community and individual efforts following Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall Aug. 25 in Texas and dumped record rainfall that swamped parts of Houston.

"I think the world saw Houston at its best in the local recovery efforts," Harvey said. "People did see a community that's unique in its ability to respond to an emergency."

Those are the kind of people Amazon might want to hire, "people you might want on hand," Harvey said.

Coastal communities are having to react to a pattern of increased rainfall and more severe tropical disturbances, with Houston making commitments to improve its infrastructure and storm surge protection, he said.

Harvey also noted Houston's quality of life built on "being a fun city" with affordable housing and a reputation for diversity. Professional sports, great restaurants and an appealing nightlife add to the attraction, he said.

The area boasts a STEM-educated and technical workforce, along with a concentration of 58 medical institutions — billed as the largest medical center in the world — and two medical schools, Harvey said.

"At the end of the day, Texas is a business-friendly state, a great place to locate a growing business," he said.

SAN ANTONIO:

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Oct. 11 announced the area was no longer bidding for the Amazon project, saying the public process was creating a bidding war among states and cities.

The letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also says media reports suggest that San Antonio might not have been on the company's "short list."

"It's not that we wouldn't love to have Amazon select San Antonio. Any city would. We know that Amazon and San Antonio are culturally compatible and that we both have eyes strategically set on the future — smart growth, municipal resiliency, and connectivity are areas we plan for and invest in today. If Amazon follows the approach that it took in Seattle by building a massive urban campus to support 50,000 employees, the company's impact could accelerate our plans in a transformative way," the letter said.

"We've long been impressed by Amazon and its bold view of the future. Given this, it's hard to imagine that a forward-thinking company like Amazon hasn't already selected its preferred location. And if that's the case, then this public process is, intentionally or not, creating a bidding war among states and cities," according to the letter.

"Sure, we have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn't our style," the letter on behalf of San Antonio and Bexar County said.