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Atlanta Leaders Grapple With 'Big Disappointment' As Amazon Goes Elsewhere

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If Amazon had located in Georgia, the state and city would have pumped more than $2B in incentives toward the retailer, officials revealed Tuesday. 

Amazon addition 675 Ponce de Leon
Renderings of a proposed new office building next to Ponce City Market that was among the proposals submitted to Amazon for its HQ2 by Georgia

If the e-commerce giant had located in the Peach State, the University of Georgia system would have established a sprawling Amazon Academy of Georgia to churn out tech talent for the online giant.

If Amazon had come to Atlanta, there were visions of gleaming new skyscrapers and commercial buildings for a campus in Midtown, or the Gulch in Downtown Atlanta, or the Westside and Quarry Yards, or next to Ponce City Market in the Old Fourth Ward, or even in sites not previously disclosed, such as in Central Perimeter at Abernathy and Barfield roads or the Lockheed Martin and Dobbins Air Force Base site in Marietta.

But like many "ifs," the dreams did not turn into a "when" for Metro Atlanta. Amazon has made it official that it is spreading out its $5B HQ2 project between Arlington, Virginia, and Queens in New York City, as well as a smaller 5,000-employee hub in Nashville.

Seven Oaks Bob Voyles
Seven Oaks Co. CEO Bob Voyles

“It’s a big disappointment to be sure, especially for those who worked so hard on our state economic development team and in the local development community to bring them here," said Seven Oaks Co. principal Bob Voyles, who was part of the consulting committee with the state on possible sites for Amazon.

But Voyles, like other state officials, took the loss in stride. He said Atlantans should not feel devastated by the failed attempt to lure the unprecedented economic development project.

“Atlanta has nothing to cry about,” he said. "Our climate, cost of living, livability, airport, cool intown neighborhoods, tech focus and favorable business climate makes us a top five contender for any new relocation opportunity."

The state and metro region certainly tried.

After months of silence, the state released its Amazon bid to the public late Tuesday. It revealed all of what could have been, including the sites being pushed, the various incentives being dangled and the reasons why Atlanta would be an ideal home.

Atlanta Leaders Grapple With 'Big Disappointment' As Amazon Goes Elsewhere
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Aside from a $1.3B megaproject tax credit — described as "unrestricted cash to the company" that equaled $26,250 per employee — Georgia also was offering a $320M sales and use tax exemption on the construction of a headquarters campus as well as $100M in tax credits for specific site development, according to documents.

The state, along with the university system, envisioned a comprehensive program to kick-start the growth and maintenance of talent in the region for Amazon, including the creation of graduate programs focused on Amazon priorities, including “Mini Masters” programs for Amazon employees to expand their skill sets in areas like cybersecurity, supply chain logistics and computer science. 

The focus on education would also have included a 20K SF collaboration and recruitment center at Coda in Tech Square, according to documents.

Other perks being offered included a potential for a dedicated MARTA rail car for Amazon employees as well as an executive lounge at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, complete with 50 free parking spots, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The state even revealed the agenda for its two-day site tour visit by Amazon officials this past March that included meetings with Atlanta notables, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Invest Atlanta CEO Eloisa Klementich, Cousins Properties CEO Larry Gellerstedt, Metro Atlanta Chamber CEO Hala Moddelmog, Tech Square Labs co-founder Paul Judge, PulteGroup Executive Chairman Richard Dugas and executives from NCR, Cardlytics, The Coca-Cola Co., Honeywell, SalesLoft and The Atlanta BeltLine.

Atlanta Leaders Grapple With 'Big Disappointment' As Amazon Goes Elsewhere
Colliers International Atlanta CEO Bob Mathews

Colliers International Atlanta CEO Bob Mathews said there could be a halo effect for Atlanta with Amazon locating a portion of its employees in Nashville, one that could benefit the region in the long haul.

"In my view, we will not regret this," he wrote in an email. "In the case of Nashville, 5,000 employees will present interesting challenges for other companies in those cities who need to grow ... Atlanta and other [regions] may likely benefit and will continue to have net growth more evenly spread."

WiredScore Head of Atlanta JD Jeske speaks at WiredScore's Atlanta launch, March 7, 2018.
WiredScore Head of Atlanta JD Jeske speaks at WiredScore's Atlanta launch on March 7, 2018.

WiredScore's head of Atlanta operations, JD Jeske, said Nashville winning a piece of the Amazon pie will bode well for Atlanta in the future.

“It tells us that cities outside of New York and D.C. are real contenders for the attention of some of the world's biggest players,” Jeske said in an email. “Nashville may have closed the deal this time, but we remain competitive on many levels.”

The Boyd Co. principal John Boyd — a national site selection expert — said that Amazon's decision should not overshadow the big economic development successes the Metro Atlanta region has secured over the past few years, from NCR and Mercedes-Benz to most recently Norfolk Southern's announced plans to move its headquarters to Midtown Atlanta from Virginia.

“Look, Atlanta is on a roll,” Boyd said. “I think you're going to see now this Amazon HQ2, the gorilla in the room, is now out of the way, and you're going to see a lot of projects, planned expansions, happen in Atlanta now.”