Anchorage makes bid for Amazon’s second headquarters

In September, retail giant Amazon announced plans for a second headquarters in addition to their current one in downtown Seattle, Washington. The location is to be chosen via a public process.

Three business women from Anchorage, Meghan Stapleton, Carmen Baker and Elaine Baker, have launched an effort to bring the headquarters to Anchorage. Stapleton is a former senior advisor of Sarah Palin; Carmen and Elaine Baker own the furniture store Elaine S. Baker & Associates.

Should Amazon finally select Anchorage as the location for the second headquarters, the city’s economy could benefit greatly. Mouhcine Guettabi, assistant professor of economics at UAA, believes jobs, resources and recognition could be the greatest gains for the community.

“Given the current economic climate in Alaska, it obviously would be a boost to economic activity,” Guettabi said.

UAA students are also hoping for benefits from Amazon in Alaska.

“Shipping would definitely faster and cheaper — and I wouldn’t have to proceed to checkout, praying that the item will even ship to Alaska,” Sofie Riley, sophomore elementary education major, said. “More jobs would be provided which would butterfly effect into more people moving to Anchorage and investing their money on a local level.”

The project is estimated to create as many as 50,000 new full-time jobs in the area. Amazon is also expected to invest into buildings and infrastructure of their final selection. In Seattle, these capital investments amounted to $3.7 billion.

Anchorage has many assets making the city a noteworthy candidate. One of the main reasons for that is Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. In terms of cargo throughput, it is the fifth largest airport in the world and the second largest in the United States behind Memphis International Airport.

Downtown Anchorage. Photo credit: Wikimedia

From Anchorage, 90 percent of the industrialized world can be reached within 9 hours and 30 minutes by airplane. This makes it a strategically favorable location for global players like Amazon.

However, evaluating the city’s chances realistically is tough.

“It is difficult to determine what dimensions matter most to them,” Guettabi said. “Clearly, Anchorage has considerable natural amenities and an educated labor force. It depends on what other cities are competing for Amazon.”

The other applicants are going to be highly competitive. So far, more than 230 cities, among them metropolises like Chicago or Boston, have submitted their bids on the headquarters. Many of them are offering tax breaks or other economic incentives to the company.

Anchorage does not offer any exclusive tax exemptions to Amazon, but could still be considered attractive with regards to Alaskan tax laws.

“We have local property taxes, but we don’t have the extra layers of taxation that you would find in other states,” Ben Mulligan, vice president of the Alaska Chamber, said.

To be considered, the cities courting the world’s largest internet-based retailer are supposed to meet certain guidelines. Amazon requires the applicants to have at least 1,000,000 residents — this number even exceeds the total population of Alaska and goes well beyond the number of Anchorage’s residents.

The company also requires the applying cities to have buildings with an area of 500,000 square feet and a greenfield site of approximately 100 acres certified or pad ready by 2019, with utility infrastructure already in place.

After the initial phase, an area of up to 8,000,000 square feet is needed for the headquarters. The site is supposed to have direct access to multimodal mass transportation including train, subway and bus routes. Complying with these standards in such a short period of time could be challenging for the municipality.

“I think we can get there if we are really serious about it,” Mulligan said. “No one is going to be right there right away. Obviously, some cities are better situated than others, but if you’re looking past Anchorage into Southcentral [Alaska] in general, we could provide it.”

Although Anchorage seems to be an underdog in the intense competition, Mulligan is hopeful that the city’s bid might be considered by the company.

“We may be up here in Alaska, but we’ve got a lot to offer,” Mulligan said. “We can be complacent in our situation or we can dream big and give it a shot. If we didn’t have folks dreaming big, I don’t know if we’d have the Trans-Alaska Pipeline right now.”

Even if the efforts are unsuccessful, the campaign might still have a positive impact on the city’s business environment.

“If worst comes to worst, we just get some attention. People will know that we’re open to business and while we may not get Amazon to get up here, we may get somebody else,” Mulligan said.

Amazon will announce their final selection in 2018.