Pierce County and Tacoma go it alone with Amazon proposal

by: Kate Martin, The News Tribune Updated:

TACOMA, Wash. - Pierce County is well on its way in wooing Amazon to build its second headquarters in the City of Destiny — and says it doesn’t need King and Snohomish counties to do it.

In fact, rebuffing an offer from the counties to the north to join their bid for Amazon’s $5 billion campus and 50,000 high-paying jobs might help Pierce County’s chances with the company, a state official says.

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“They only wanted to consider an area that includes a commute zone of preferably a half-hour but no longer than an hour,” said Brian Bonlender, director of the state Department of Commerce, based on conversations his department has had with Amazon.

Amazon’s request has set off a continent-wide bonanza for its second headquarters, an opportunity economic development professionals seldom see and would love to have.

So far, more than 100 cities say they plan to pitch the online retailer on bringing the project to them. Applications are due to Amazon Oct. 19.

So far, in addition to the Pierce and King-Snohomish proposals, the Spokane and Vancouver areas are considering bids.

The online retailer has encouraged cities and counties to file a single proposal if they are in the same metropolitan statistical area, which is the case for Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

But a three-county proposal isn’t realistic, Bonlender said.

The company wants proposals to include an analysis of the available workforce. And if Amazon wants workers to commute only an hour or less, including people who live in Everett in a workforce analysis for a Tacoma campus won’t work, he said.

A little more than two weeks ago, King and Snohomish county executives asked Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier to bring Pierce County into their proposal, which now includes nine cities and the Tulalip Tribes.

Ultimately Dammeier said no, that Pierce County’s proposal — spearheaded by the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County — was much further along and more organized than the joint King-Snohomish effort appeared to be.

“At that point there were a lot of questions about what was going to be proposed,” Dammeier said of the Sept. 21 conference call.

When asked by The News Tribune what was proposed, he said very little.

“There was almost no detail,” he said, noting that one question was whether the counties should hire a consultant.

The comment took Dammeier aback, since the EDB had hired consultants for the push within two days of Amazon publishing its request for proposals Sept. 7.

“It really felt like we were well on our path,” he said. “… From my perspective, it was not very well coordinated at that point. It was not coming together.”

EDB CEO Bruce Kendall called the King-Snohomish proposal — involving 10 jurisdictions — “interesting,” but said Pierce County is opting for a more focused proposal.

“It’s not the approach we are pitching,” he said. “We are pitching the jewel of the crown — Tacoma.”

For a city that often feels snubbed by its northern neighbors, this time it was the other way around.

“We made a conscious decision to submit our own proposal,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “We were not excluded (from the King-Snohomish plan.)”

About a dozen employees from several agencies and governments in Pierce County are working on an offer that hones in on the South Sound.

“We wanted to put the strongest proposal forward that we could and we felt this was the way to do it,” said Denise Dyer, director for Pierce County’s economic development office.

Broadly, the Pierce County proposal highlights available properties in Tacoma and nearby cities, touts the value of University of Washington Tacoma and will include letters from business and city leaders, Dammeier said.

He and others did not share more details of the plan. Many cities across the continent are closely guarding their proposals to maintain what they see as an advantage.

“I am hopeful Amazon will site some more facilities down here,” Dammeier said. “But even if they did not, this helps us sell a broader vision of our region to the rest of the world.”

Many other cities and states are taking the same approach, saying a pitch is good practice and publicity to lure other companies to their areas.

However, Strickland said she’s in it to win it.

“We want to keep them in Puget Sound because this is where they belong,” she said. “We aren’t doing this just to get noticed.”

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