Interview With David Iannucci as Prince George’s Bids for Amazon HQ
By Bruce DePuyt
If the Washington, D.C., region wins the competition for Amazon’s new headquarters, it will be because the workforce here is superior. That’s the view of the top economic development official in Prince George’s County, which this week publicly announced details of its bid to get the giant retailer to move to the county.
County Executive Rushern Baker (D) found out about Amazon’s quest for a second headquarters during a trip to Asia, and immediately ordered David Iannucci, head of economic development for the county, to put together a set of viable options.
Baker, a candidate for governor, unveiled four options at a news conference this week, an event that attracted numerous TV cameras and journalists from both of Maryland’s media markets. Washington Business Journal reporter Karen Goff does a great job laying out the county’s proposals in detail.
The prospect of 50,000 high-paying tech jobs and the luster of Amazon has state and local officials around the U.S. and Canada salivating — and scrambling. The Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes is going to draw hundreds of bids, including, potentially, several from the D.C. region. The Prince George’s proposals will be forwarded to the Maryland Office of Economic Development, with no guarantee they will emerge as the state’s top pick.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said earlier this week that he will lobby Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to bring the company’s second headquarters to the Port Covington development in Baltimore city. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is competing with Baker to become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, attempted to score some political points when he said he’d like to see the project come to the city, rather than his jurisdiction.
State Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) on Wednesday endorsed Port Covington as the preferred site for Amazon. And a Baltimore Sun editorial takes Baker to task for promoting alternative sites.
The only known at this point is that everyone enters the fray an underdog.
MarylandMatters spoke with Iannucci after this week’s news conference. (This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Maryland Matters: Can you talk about how the sites were chosen? You couldn’t submit every vacant parcel…
David Iannucci: We had to be selective…
MM: Talk about that.
DI: We reached out to multiple locations. Some landowners declined. Then we narrowed it down. We knew we couldn’t throw 10 sites at the state Department of Commerce. We had to be selective. College Park stands alone, mostly around the Discovery District, M Square. But just one Metro stop away we have the Greenbelt location for the FBI. They could choose one, the other, or both. This would give Amazon maximum flexibility, multiple Metro stations, a potential 14 million square feet of office capacity. We also looked at New Carrollton, where we have four different parcels that give us 300 acres of development, more than the square footage they need. The truth is we had to move very quickly and we haven’t had the chance to tell all the owners of the properties that their sites have been included! But no one’s objecting when they hear they’ve been included. We looked at the RFP’s components, we went through that checklist, and based on access to highways, access to transit, access to a workforce, access to airports, access to telecommunications technology, the land, these are the sites that Prince George’s County feels very strongly can be competitive with any location in the United States.
MM: Does the county go at Amazon directly, or do you go through the state to Amazon?
DI: The first move will be working with the state as they put together, we expect, joint proposals. From an incentive standpoint, this only works with the State of Maryland working with any local jurisdiction. But we will not be shy about going directly to Amazon as well. We’re working with metropolitan Washington area organizations like [the Council of Governments] to market our site as part of the region. The goal is to get the attention of Amazon. Once you have their attention we have confidence that the state of Maryland will work with whatever site can make that type of cut.
MM: Looking at the big picture, at the countless cities and counties that are going to submit a proposal, is there the risk that the bidding war becomes so intense that the “winner” will end up giving up more than they get?
DI: Yes. That is a very realistic possibility. I predict that Amazon could be looking at 500 sites in the northern hemisphere altogether. And there will be jurisdictions that will throw hundreds of acres of land, for free, toward Amazon, and will offer incentives that may cross the billion dollar level on a $5 billion project. Prince George’s County, while we use incentives aggressively, we always do the type of analysis that says — at the end of the day — is there a return on investment to Prince George’s County? For instance, what’s going on in Wisconsin right now is an effort to tie down FoxConn and its thousands of jobs. And the incentive package that the state of Wisconsin has passed is in the billions of dollars. We would never have gone to the lengths that they have. By Wisconsin’s own analysis, Wisconsin never makes money on the FoxConn deal until year 40. We would have passed on that. So there will be a point — we will ask hard questions. We understand that these are taxpayer dollars. We will look for a return on investment in a reasonable period of time, and there’s a point where that won’t make sense.
MM: People say the D.C. region may have an edge because Amazon owner Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post and has a house here. Is that small potatoes given how high the stakes are, or does that give the D.C. area a real advantage?
DI: I think having Jeff Bezos living in Washington gives the Washington area an advantage. But it doesn’t close the deal. There are more rumors than I can count in the last week about who knows who, who made a phone call to who, who sat in the Ravens box with who, and who had dinner at what steakhouse, and so forth. And that’s going to drive us crazy for the next six or seven months. I think Boston put out a press release that they had some type of inside track and Amazon immediately shot it down. And so, sure, I think Bezos living in Washington is a positive thing, but it won’t decide this competition. I’m convinced that the deciding factor is access to workforce. Logistics, land, mass transit, airports, education all are important. But at the end of the day Amazon’s going to say, “where can I find 50,000 smart, young, technologically-skilled workers?” That’s what they need to find. That’s where Maryland, that’s where particularly the Washington area, does well under any criteria.