ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Mayor Adler: Landing Amazon’s HQ2 could push Austin to find solutions to some key issues  

Posted November 22nd, 2017

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has not been very vocal about Amazon’s $5 billion second headquarters project since the company announced plans for it in September. But one point he has made is that if it landed here, Amazon’s HQ2 could help the Austin area tackle some of its major issues.

HQ2 has garnered much attention because of its scope - 50,000 new jobs averaging a salary of more than $100,000 -  and the public manner in which Amazon has handled the project, an unusual strategy in economic development.

Amazon, which is reviewing the 238 proposals it received from from cities and regions, said it estimates the facility to be equal to its Seattle headquarters, which consists of 33 buildings and which Amazon has said resulted in more than $38 billion added to the economy there from 2010 to 2016.

Adler recently spoke to the American-Statesman regarding his vision for the Austin area if Amazon HQ2 were to come here, what his office has been doing as the region pursues the facility and what the city's strategy is regarding the project. (This interview was edited for clarity and length.) 

American-Statesman: You've previously said that Amazon’s HQ2 could potentially provide the Austin area an opportunity to address some "community needs." What are the biggest needs the project could help address?

Adler: The biggest issue in the city relates to affordability. Mobility is also a challenge. As a city, we need better options so people can get around the city. Getting outside jobs and training people that live here is a challenge for us, as well as people getting better jobs that are in poverty. Those are two really big challenges. 

Statesman: How could HQ2 specifically help address those issues?

Adler: Something of Amazon's scale has the potential to help us realize those solutions to those issues that we might not be able to realize otherwise. It could maybe be them being here to help us with new mobility technologies, or maybe them being able to help extend mobility services to parts of the city that don't have that, or if they were interested in helping us create new urban centers, so that not everyone was trying to get downtown. There could be hundreds of different ways. It's possible that something of this scale could help this community address that change. A lot of that would depend on what they were looking for, too, and what worked for them. I'm not really sure how it looks, but that's the type of conversation that I think would be great. 

Statesman: Have you had any conversations with Amazon representatives since the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce submitted the area's bid? 

Adler: I have not.

Statesman: What is your office doing in the meantime as it awaits Amazon’s next step regarding HQ2?

Adler: We are making sure we are promoting our values. We're engaging regionally with affordability issues, and we're engaging in issues that if (Amazon) were to become a part of that collaboration, that we would certainly have the tools and resources and scale that might help that conversation. (Our vision) is really the vision of having the conversation (with Amazon).

Statesman: If HQ2 came to the Austin area, what would be most important in making a project of that magnitude fit well with this area? 

Adler: Remaining true to who we are. Focusing on the quality of life in our city. We will regardless be growing over time. It's important that when you are adding (a lot of) people, to do everything we can to preserve who we are. Even though the city is obviously changing, it's about preserving the character and value and culture. I would hope we would do that in that period of time, and we would have to guard against those things that would prevent that.

Statesman: That said, what do you think the Austin area would look like 10 or 20 years from now if HQ2 came here? Seattle has changed quite a bit since Amazon started there, and some of that change can be associated with Amazon.

Adler: Regardless of whether this project came or not, I would hope that the quality of life would continue to be preserved and that the special spirit of the city would still be a part of who we are. I would hope that we are an increasingly more equitable city with opportunities available for anyone, and that we have much greater and effective mobility. 

Statesman: The city publicly communicated weeks ago that it did not include a local financial incentives offer in its HQ2 proposal, which is different than what most cities likely did, especially because this is a highly competitive project. How do you explain not initially offering Amazon any local incentives while others have and while you publicly say that you want Amazon to help the city with projects if they bring HQ2 here?

Adler: The (city) council passed a resolution that says that when we sit down with companies to talk about coming here that ... there's a public engagement process. That's something that's being developed right now, and a conversation with Amazon would be consistent with that. The city will not approve incentives without a public process that would require a council vote. This system would be new, but ultimately, the question to offer incentives is something to be decided by the council. People would have the opportunity to speak to it.  

That's a conversation that has really just begun. (Amazon) will have more in-depth conversations with who they want to have more in-depth conversations with. At this this point, it's an open-ended conversation whether or not they could help us solve our most significant challenges. I don't know where that conversation could go. 

Statesman: What to you is most significant as the Austin area tries to move forward with its bid?

Adler: It's just to be honest and continue to answer the questions they might have and help them to understand Austin the best that we can and be consistent about what we're looking for. 

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