Forget about Toyota.
Toyota, State Farm Insurance, Charles Schwab — all yesterday’s news.
There’s a new economic development horse race for jobs, and the trophy is finer than any chamber of commerce president’s wildest gin-soaked dream.
Amazon’s announcement that it’s looking for someplace to park 50,000 employees and $5 billion in investment in a new headquarters has sent city officials scrambling, from the Big Apple to Bugtussle.
The Seattle-based digital retailer that’s taking over the planet has given communities about a month to come up with proposals for its planned second corporate headquarters.
The prospect of landing so many new jobs and so much civic prestige has lit a fire under folks in North Texas and around the nation, all of them begging Amazon to punch “buy it now” after hearing their sales pitches.
So, really now, how likely is that to happen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area?
Well, I’ve been writing about this kind of stuff since John Neely Bryan relocated his cabin to the banks of the Trinity River, and I think we’ve got a decent shot.
But there are a lot of other states and towns gunning for Amazon’s business, and the shooting hasn’t even started yet.
The reward is totally worth it.
At roughly 8 million square feet in size, the campus would be as large as eight downtown Dallas skyscrapers.
Even so, that’s only about half as many people as we add to the employment rolls in the D-FW area each year. We lead the country in creating new jobs and attracting workers.
That’s why the Toyotas, Liberty Mutual Insurances and Chase Banks of the world are planting their flags on our patch of prairie. Our business climate, tax base and cost of living are unmatched.
Still, D-FW has some heavy competition.
My short list of top bidders
My list of potential competitors for Amazon is also topped by Denver and Atlanta.
Denver has a quality of life that won’t quit and legal marijuana to boot.
Those big mountains on the western horizon in the Mile High City are huge attractors for millennial workers — which is what Amazon is hunting.
Atlanta is a ruthless competitor for corporate moves and has outmaneuvered Texas before. They fight dirty and are not to be counted out.
I think Las Vegas may be a wildcard play. They have cheap airfare to anyplace on the globe, and the state of Nevada has proven with the Tesla gigafactory deal that it’s willing to write big checks to land new corporate investment.
The check governments will have to write for Amazon is off the charts.
Wisconsin just ponied up a staggering $3 billion in incentives to get high-tech manufacturer Foxconn’s new manufacturing plant. (That was a nationwide competition, too.)
Look for Amazon to require at least a cool billion dollars in giveaways and tax breaks before it will ship its jobs from Seattle to a new state.
It will be tough for Texas to cough up that much money. And our state’s brick-and-mortar retailers will pitch a fit at giving away that much green to the evil empire trying to run them out of business.
And, Texas is an also-ran when it comes to the quality of our education system — something on Amazon’s list of must-haves.
For decades, we’ve underspent on education in this state — both for local school districts and higher education — and it’s eventually going to bite us in the butt. Amazon may prove that case.
We’ve been here before
We’ve had a sorry track record with winning big, publicly advertised economic development plays.
Dallas blew it with Boeing — although we did get a new downtown out of the deal.
And in the late 1980s, we fought like a fiend to get GM’s big Saturn plant and lost out to Tennessee. How pitiful is that?
We won the 1980s race for the $4.4 billion SuperCollider project. Sadly, that turned out to be just a big hole in the ground outside Waxahachie.
Where Amazon could land in D-FW
If the Big A does decide to come to the Big D, I have a few suggestions where it might go.
As it turns out, only a couple of my ideas are for locations actually in Dallas.
The area just southwest of downtown along Riverfront Boulevard has a front-row seat to the planned Trinity River parks and can access DART’s light rail system at the South Side on Lamar district. It’s a real opportunity for a corporate employer or a developer with vision — something Amazon has shown from its start.
Amazon might take a hankering to the Dallas Midtown project along LBJ Freeway near the Dallas North Tollway. The neighborhood that includes the old Valley View Mall site is earmarked for redevelopment.
The big downside there is the lack of commuter rail access. If anyone really thinks LBJ Freeway is new and improved, try throwing another 50,000 cars on that stretch.
Rail transit access is one of the reasons I would be touting the old Texas Stadium property in Irving to Amazon or anyone else looking for a corporate headquarters location. The stadium site and the vacant Central Freight property across the highway are midway between downtown Dallas and DFW Airport and have a link to thousands of apartments and retail next door in Las Colinas with DART’s rail line.
American Airlines looked at the Texas Stadium property before deciding to build its new campus in North Fort Worth.
I’m also guessing that the Telecom Corridor has its hat in the ring for Amazon because of its location on DART’s commuter rail line and the planned Cotton Belt Rail that will connect Richardson and Plano to the airport.
If the Telecom Corridor was good enough for 10,000 State Farm workers, a few thousand more Amazonians should feel right at home.
North Fort Worth’s AllianceTexas development is also surely on Amazon’s radar screen. The location near airports and highways has already landed Amazon distribution centers in that area.
If AllianceTexas could figure out how to get rail transit to its door, Amazon and other big employers would be ready to roll.
Amazon will build something new and smart
I do think Amazon will decide to build a huge office campus as opposed to shoehorning into some existing buildings.
After seeing what Apple, Facebook, Google and — most recently — Toyota have come up with as the perfect mouse traps for millennial workers, Amazon won’t want to settle for somebody else’s recycled digs.
Some folks tell me that since they want an “urban” location, that means in a downtown area. Baloney on that.
Four years ago, Toyota and JPMorgan Chase’s new campus location in West Plano was a cornfield and a horse farm.
Now it’s in the middle of one the country’s hottest new urban developments called Legacy West.
If Amazon falls into your backyard, I guarantee it will become the new urban center of the universe.
Presented by Dallas Morning News, September 22, 2017