Amazon dumped NYC, but Warren, Windsor, others persist

Staff and wire reports
In this Feb. 14, 2019 photo provided by Newark Alliance, Laurie Ross, an actor with the event planners at Life 'O the Party, holds a message reading “NJ & Newark Still Love U, Amazon!” while arriving at an Amazon office in New York. The love note came despite Amazon saying it’s not seeking a new site.

Amazon’s breakup with New York was still fresh when other cities started sending their own valentines to the online giant.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and Warren Mayor Jim Fouts joined representatives from other jilted suitors such as Newark, Chicago and others letting Amazon know they are interested in a relationship with the tech giant.

“Hey @amazon .... @CityWindsorON and @CityofDetroit would love to have you reconsider our 1 campus - 2 country idea,” Dilkens tweeted. “Get the best talent in both countries! New York may not want you, we do!”

Dilkens said leaders in Michigan, Detroit and Windsor are working on different ideas since coming together for the $4 billion incentive package offered to Amazon that didn’t make the cut. Dilkens said he is unaware of any greater efforts to reach out to Amazon since it said it would not build a new headquarters in New York and expand other existing U.S. and Canada offices instead.

“I think the opportunity to become a stronger competitor will only grow over time,” Dilkens told The Detroit News. “We welcome the opportunity to have the discussion.”

Mayor Mike Duggan and businessman Dan Gilbert, who led the proposal’s efforts, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Fouts, meanwhile, trumpeted the city of Warren on Facebook on the heels of the city attracting General Motors Co.’s Cadillac brand headquarters from New York City. He highlighted Warren’s award-winning fire and police departments, “100% LED lights on all of our roads,” “top notch sanitation vehicles,” access to Detroit and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the region’s talent.

In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington.

“Amazon, please consider dynamic Warren as your headquarters!” Fouts wrote. “You will not be disappointed!”

The love notes came even though Amazon said it doesn’t plan to pick a new city to replace New York, where its second headquarters project was supposed to produce 25,000 jobs.

Officials in Newark, New Jersey, one of the 18 finalists that Amazon rejected in November when it announced plans to put its new headquarters in New York and northern Virginia, sent a giant heart to Amazon that read, “NJ & Newark Still Love U, Amazon!”

But why woo a company that says it’s not interested?

For one, the allure of potential jobs is just too much to pass up for many politicians, said Nathan Jensen, a University of Texas government professor who has criticized how economic development incentives are used.

And even if Amazon spurns them, this is a low-risk way for politicians to show they are looking out for their constituents.

“The ‘losing’ cities can continue to publicly talk about everything they are doing for HQ2 even if they know they don’t have a shot. If they know HQ2 isn’t coming, there is no real cost to doing this,” Jensen said.

Dilkens said he was shocked that a community that took the time to put together the bid it did would now turn on it.

“It’s almost inconceivable,” he said. “You might have a small local group of opponents in any community, but the commitment I saw from Michigan, Detroit and this side of the river is second to none. We would have had the resolve to bring those 25,000 jobs here.”

More than 230 municipalities in North America competed for HQ2, taking part in a months-long bidding war that Amazon eagerly fomented. Cities offered billions in inducements. In New Jersey, state and local governments put $7 billion in incentives on the table as part of the Newark bid.

The view of downtown Detroit with the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor in the distance.

New York ultimately won the competition by promising nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and grants in addition to access to the nation’s media and financial capital and its educated workforce. But on Valentine’s Day, Amazon abruptly canceled the project after running into fierce opposition to those incentives from lawmakers and political activists on the left.

That shows that the company cared little about getting community input, said Richard Florida, an economic development expert.

“After searching across 200 plus communities and identifying NY (and greater DC) as the places it needed to be, it pulls out as soon as local residents and politicians question the billions in incentives it does not need and asks it do more for the community,” Florida said in an email.

Florida and Jensen predicted some cities will now begin to push back when companies seek tax subsidies. But Greg LeRoy, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank Good Jobs First, said there is little likelihood that will happen any time soon.

“Look, this is deeply learned behavior,” LeRoy said. “There’s an 80-plus-year history to this tax-break-industrial complex.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Breana Noble and Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed.