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No Amazon HQ2 for Houston

Never really expected that we’d be a top contender, to be honest.

Amazon ruled out Houston as a candidate for its $5 billion second headquarters on Thursday, delivering a blow to local leaders who had hoped to lure the Seattle tech giant to a four-mile stretch between downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

The largest U.S. online retailer whittled down more than 200 proposals from North America cities to just 20, eliminating Houston but keeping the city’s longtime rivals Austin and Dallas on its short list.

Amazon’s decision marks a setback for local leaders including the Greater Houston Partnership, which led an effort last fall to pitch the city as an attractive market for the company to set down stakes.

“I believe this is a wake-up call for Houston,” GHP CEO Bob Harvey said in a statement. “While there has been growing momentum in the innovation space over the last couple of years, this is a clear indication that we have much more work to do as a region to grow our digital economy.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called Amazon’s decision ” disappointing and heartbreaking.:

But, he added, “It serves as a wake-up call that we must move at a much quicker pace. The city is well positioned, but it’s also is an indication that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

[…]

In his statement Thursday, Harvey said Houston should focus on developing the Innovation Corridor and its technology sector further. He also said Houston should move forward with the proposed Houston Data Science Institute, a data center recently announced by the University of Houston.

“While we are the number one market in the country for STEM talent, we need to bolster our pipeline of digital tech talent that is relevant to tomorrow’s digital economy,” Harvey said. “This means working with our higher education partners across the region to develop and invest in programs that will produce the talent we need to succeed.”

But economists warned that Houston would rank low on Amazon’s wish list in the nationwide bidding war for a campus that could bring 50,000 jobs, saying the city lacked a robust public transportation system. Only 2 percent of the local population takes public transportation to work, according to Census data.

See here and here for some background. On the one hand, it’s always a bummer to miss out. On the other hand, I wasn’t excited at the thought of giving zillions of dollars in incentives and tax breaks to a behemoth like Amazon as deal-sweeteners. There’s too much of that going on already. Doing things like developing the Innovation Corridor and building a Data Science Institute, that’s fine and worthwhile as investments. And let’s be sure not to overlook the feedback about our public transportation infrastructure. Imagine where we could have been if we’d had a Congressional delegation that was unanimous in its support of of more robust transit system. We’ll have an opportunity to support that at the ballot box this November. If we’re serious about wanting to be more competitive with the cities we lost out to, we need to put our money where our mouths are. The Trib, Texas Monthly (which is very skeptical of the chase to lure in Amazon), Swamplot, and the Dallas Observer have more.

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7 Comments

  1. Tory says:

    This article says our transit rates highly, and plenty of cities made the final list with much weaker transit systems: Austin, Raleigh, Indy, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Miami, Northern Virginia, Maryland.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/01/19/the-big-losers-in-amazons-hq2-hunt/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_wb-hq2-840am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.89abd6a25d37

  2. Steve Houston says:

    After reading their initial RFP and watching an interview regarding what they were looking for, I was left with the impression that Amazon always had a couple of favorites picked out but used the process to put the squeeze on them for more incentives. As such, Hurricane Harvey, transportation, and other touted factors likely had nothing to do with Houston “losing” this facility. One would think we’d learned from previous endeavors involving corporate welfare but take a moment and read Amazon’s RFP with a critical eye before projecting all sorts of “if we had only done this or that” onto this matter. The amount of public investment demanded for this was enough to make the NFL blush and I just don’t believe the benefits would ever have reached anything close to what they were claiming. Maybe I’m too cynical…

  3. voter_worker says:

    Not cynical at all, Steve.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    Steve just nailed it. Houston had as much of a chance at getting the new Amazon facility as Romney had getting a government job from Trump, which is to say, no chance.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    Another thought…..remember when Texas sued Amazon to collect sales taxes, since they do have a physical presence in the state? Do we really think Amazon has forgotten about that? I would certainly have a grudge against Texas over that, if I was Bezos.

  6. Tory says:

    Steve definitely nailed it.