Pittsburgh has much more to offer Amazon than a plucky, can-do attitude.
In their formal bid to land the Seattle-based company’s second headquarters and the $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs that could come with it, the region’s leaders touted Pittsburgh’s affordable cost of living, tech reinvention, strong talent, regional collaboration, and low-cost real estate in neighborhoods ready for a comeback.
These are selling points that no competing city can match and they should outweigh any financial incentives that larger metro areas might offer the e-commerce giant, said Mayor Bill Peduto.
“We are in a competition and I feel our chances are very good,” Peduto said. “I can say that we are considered to be one of the front-runners. … This is something that we’ve worked on over decades.”
He and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald submitted the proposal along with Stefani Pashman,CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Specifics such as key sites and economic details remain confidential because of a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon.
Amazon issued its request for proposals for a second headquarters city on Sept. 7, and dozens of cities were expected to submit final bids by Oct. 19.
Fitzgerald said any grants or tax credits Pittsburgh might offer would be based on deliverables; Amazon must make public investments and create jobs. But public subsidies are certain to be part of the winning bid and if it comes down to a bidding war, Pittsburgh officials would conduct a cost-benefit analysis so that data, not emotion, determines how far to go.
“I hope we get to that point,” Fitzgerald said.
The city and county worked with foundations, universities and corporations to put together the proposal titled “Future. Forged. For all” and a social media campaign with the hashtag #OURPGHQ2. A new website shares testimonials from Pittsburgh enthusiasts. A video promotes Pittsburghers as “dreamers, thinkers, makers and problem solvers” who are not afraid to redefine themselves.
“There’s a lot of speculation on what’s on Amazon’s mind and I think what we need to do is say, ‘This is our story,’” said Pashman, whose organization works to attract businesses to the 10-county region.
The project team dubbed PGHQ2 spent six weeks drafting a message that addresses Amazon’s specifications. With money largely from foundations, they spent around $500,000 to prepare, submit and market the proposal; the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh kicked in $50,000. PNC, UPMC and Highmark were among those providing in-kind contributions.
Amazon’s presence would bring swift growth that could affect the area’s infrastructure, housing, and transportation network, Peduto and Fitzgerald acknowledged. But the city has 17,000 vacant and blighted houses in neighborhoods that have not seen growth in 50 years, Peduto said. “What we have is an opportunity to use this as a catalyst to seed economic growth and development in parts of the city and region that have seen none.”
Amazon has 40,000 employees in Seattle and is among tech giants such as Uber, Google, Apple and Microsoft with footholds in Pittsburgh. In its RFP, Amazon said it wants proximity to a population center of at least 1 million, an airport and network of highways. After initial construction in 2019, its space requirements could expand to eight million square feet by 2027.
Even with thousands of construction laborers committed to other major projects throughout the region, Pittsburgh would be able to accommodate a quick build-out for Amazon, Peduto and Fitzgerald said. There is real estate Downtown and across scattered sites that is development-ready, Peduto said. In this city, people pull together and always get the job done, they said.
Pittsburgh also has older industrial sites that aren’t being utilized, such as former Westinghouse buildings in Churchill and Monroeville, Fitzgerald said. “We could ramp up fairly quickly,” he added. With a new terminal and more flights planned for Pittsburgh International Airport, “they will see that we’re investing in the future,” he said.
Fitzgerald likened the process of putting together the bid to studying for a test in school and afterward knowing that you aced it.
“I know the proposal that we put together we did very well. We’re going to get an A,” he said. “And it’s because of all of the great things that we have in this region that we can sell to Amazon.”
The next step will be for Amazon to narrow the applications to finalists, Peduto said: “They’ve got their homework ahead of them.”