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Minnesota wants in on Amazon HQ sweepstakes

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Construction on the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle in April
Construction on the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle seen here in April. Amazon said Thursday that it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America, and Minnesota's governor wants it.
Elaine Thompson | AP file

The race for Amazon is on.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday ordered his economic development agency to ready a bid for a new Amazon.com headquarters building the company says will deliver as many as 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment for the location it selects.

The tantalizing prospect of so many high-paying jobs is sure to lead to an avalanche of proposals from around the country. Seattle-based Amazon announced the sweepstakes Thursday and gave interested cities and states about a month to submit proposals.

Dayton put the Department of Employment and Economic Development on the case and said he would meet Friday with Commissioner Shawntera Hardy about what might go into a bid.

"With two current facilities in Minnesota, including a recent expansion in Shakopee, Amazon has already seen the benefits of Minnesota's well-educated and world-class workforce, who live and work in strong communities with a high quality of life," Dayton said.

Seattle-based Amazon described its plan as a second North American headquarters. Looking over the criteria for consideration that the retail giant laid out Thursday, the Twin Cities would seem to be in the mix.

Amazon wants it to be in a metropolitan area of at least 1 million people, with a strong higher education system, access to a tech-savvy workforce and proximity to mass transit and a major international airport. 

In its request for bids, Amazon said it would select a site next year and build out in phases. The first would be a 500,000-plus square foot building in 2019 with the ability to take it to 8 million square feet over the following decade. The company wants an infrastructure-ready site. 

It's not clear, however, how much it would cost taxpayers to bring the company here, or anyplace else.

The public might not know up front what each location is putting up. Amazon is instructing bidders to mark their proposals as "confidential" when turning them in by Oct. 19.

Amazon is seeking unspecified tax credits, land agreements and other incentives from bidders and made it clear the value of those incentives will be significant in the company's decision. Proposals must include details about zoning, timelines for winning various approvals and information on traffic logistics and congestion.

Such a venture could run into resistance if proposed incentives get too steep. Some lawmakers have viewed online retailers like Amazon with suspicion because they pose direct competition to Main Street small businesses. Leaders in Wisconsin have been taking heat for the $3 billion tax break package they approved to land a Taiwanese display panel factory.

For now, though, state officials are simply trying to get into the game. 

Hardy said her agency has begun conversations with local and regional development partners about an Amazon pitch.

"Time and again, Minnesota has proven that when businesses start, relocate or grow in our state, they are afforded the tools and resources to make them successful," Hardy said. "We are committed to continuing that legacy."

One key potential player quickly weighed in. 

"Our region is situated perfectly to attract technology and innovation jobs," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in a Facebook post. 

St. Paul currently has a giant, open industrial area at the old Ford truck assembly plant site with some lovely Mississippi River views.

Coleman didn't mention the site in his post but added, "we have numerous opportunities for a company like Amazon to build a campus that meets its needs."

Former DFL Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen, who like Coleman is a candidate for governor, added a former munitions site in Arden Hills to the list of possibilities.

State Republican legislative leaders also applauded the pursuit of Amazon. 

"We stand ready to help," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee Chair Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, told Hardy in a letter.