The business and political communities are all abuzz at the news that Amazon, the Seattle-based retailing giant, is looking for a location to open a second headquarters.
Amazon will supposedly spend $5 billion on a new headquarters that would employ 50,000 people. I suspect that both of those numbers are a little inflated, but there’s a reason for that: CEO Jeff Bezos would like to see a bidding war by states offering tax breaks and other financial goodies.
When the news first leaked that Amazon was looking for a new location, Gov. Nathan Deal said: “We’re going to make a big push to try to get this.”
Here’s a handy translation of that statement: “We’re going to open the doors to the state treasury and let Jeff Bezos drive off with as much money as he wants.”
Georgia reportedly will offer Amazon a financial package worth as much as $1 billion to relocate here. That’s chump change, however, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and state lawmakers are saying they will offer tax breaks worth $5 billion.
These bidding wars are usually a sucker’s game. The number of jobs that corporation relocations are going to create typically don’t turn out to be as many as they’re hyped to be. The $1 billion that Deal wants to throw at Amazon executives would be much better spent to upgrade the state’s public schools or expand mass transit facilities in metro Atlanta.
In the end, of course, Deal and state officials will choose to throw the money at Amazon. That’s the way they roll.
There are several things that Georgia and metro Atlanta have going for them when it comes to wooing a corporate giant like Amazon. One is the location of the world’s busiest airport. Another is the availability of highly regarded universities like Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and UGA that provide the brainpower a corporate giant would covet.
There are some other factors that might not work so well for Georgia, however,
It has been reported that Amazon may look favorably on Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver because of the uncertainty surrounding the immigration issue in this country. A company that hires large numbers of tech employees would look overseas for much of this talent, so it would want to avoid hassles surrounding the issuance of visas.
Georgia is a big loser here, because we are a state whose political leadership displays animosity toward immigrants at every opportunity. In Deal’s first year as governor, he trumpeted his signing of a comprehensive bill that cracked down harshly on Georgia’s immigrant workers and communities.
In nearly every session of the legislature since, conservative lawmakers have continued to introduce bills that are intended to punish or humiliate immigrants even more. That’s not going to look very good to the corporate bigwigs at a company with a large number of international employees.
Georgia’s chances of landing a corporate giant like Amazon may already have been killed by a piece of paper that four candidates for governor signed in early August.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and his three major rivals in the Republican primary signed a pledge that they would enact a “religious liberty” measure if one of them was elected governor in 2018.
Cagle, who is considered to be the front-runner in the GOP race, initially held off from signing that pledge, while Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former legislator Hunter Hill and state Sen. Michael Williams rushed to sign it. But in the end, Cagle signed it, too.
That is a big deal, because large corporations like Amazon do not like to become ensnarled in religious freedom battles.
When these companies recruit employees, they don’t limit themselves to heterosexual white Christians. They look for talent regardless of whether the person might be black, Latino, female or a member of the LGBT community. They don’t want those employees to be harassed by local governments enforcing a religious freedom law.
Amazon may choose to avoid a place like Georgia, where immigrants are bashed and the next governor could well be someone who pushes for a religious freedom law.
If the state should lose out on that headquarters, it could be because of that pledge signed in August by Cagle, Kemp, Hill and Williams.