State puts finishing touches on Amazon bid

Gov. Mark Dayton met Monday with state and regional economic development officials to put the finishing touches on Minnesota’s low-key bid to attract Amazon’s new headquarters.

Langley and Hardy
Michael Langley, CEO of the regional economic development group Greater MSP, and Shawntera Hardy, commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Many details of the proposal, which is due Thursday, remain tightly under wraps. Officials say it will rely on existing state programs aimed at helping businesses, possibly along with some local financial incentives.

The Minnesota team says its pitch for the $5 billion project will be sent in a day early.

Other bidders around the country have staged flashy publicity stunts to declare their interest in Amazon. Many are also talking about big tax breaks and other incentives to lure the corporate giant, but Minnesota Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Shawntera Hardy said that’s not the Minnesota way. Hardy said the state is simply trying to provide Amazon with some basic information.

“So, at this point we are putting out the existing tools in my department’s toolbox.”

Hardy said she is limited to using economic development programs that are currently available to help attract and retain businesses. She said anything more would require legislative approval. But Hardy said local government officials could be looking at other incentives for Amazon.

Seattle-based Amazon says its second headquarters will eventually employ up to 50,000 people. It will only consider metropolitan areas with more than one million people and other specific characteristics.

Michael Langley, CEO of the regional economic development group Greater MSP, said there are a number of regional sites under consideration as part of Minnesota’s bid. He wouldn’t say how many or name any of them, even though several locations have been previously reported, including ones in Ramsey County, Minneapolis, Bloomington and Shakopee.

Langley stressed that the bidding will be a long process beyond this week’s deadline. He said the first goal is to get on Amazon’s short list.

“Once we get on a short list, then there will be a lot more negotiation, a lot more sitting down with the company and understanding what the benefits of locating here in Minnesota might be. So, there will be more to talk about later on as it relates to any financial supports and cooperation with the company. But at this point in time, we need to get to that next step.”

A longtime critic of government subsidies for businesses remains concerned about Minnesota’s involvement in the Amazon sweepstakes.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he doesn’t want to help one large, successful company at the expense of others.

Marty said Minnesota’s bid should include his proposal to switch the state to a universal health care system. He said that kind of change could save Amazon more money than tax breaks and also help every other business in Minnesota.

Marty said he’s heard from several small business owners who share his concern.

“They’re already paying taxes. They’re already creating jobs in Minnesota," he said. "It’s always an unfair, unlevel playing field when government is picking winners and losers and saying ‘we’re going to give you guys a tax break and not you. Matter of fact, you folks are going to pay more for it.’”

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