Hogsett says Amazon bid focuses more on quality of life than sites, incentives

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the city of Indianapolis is “prepared to look at anything and everything” that would help it secure Amazon’s planned second U.S. headquarters.

Well, not quite anything—at least not at any cost.

“I’m a fiscally prudent guy,” Hogsett said. “I’m not going to do something or support something that is ultimately irresponsible.”

In an interview with IBJ, the mayor said Indy’s bid to land HQ2—a project expected to cost more than $5 billion and create 50,000 high-paying jobs over 10 to 15 years—didn’t focus as much on specific sites or incentives as it did on central Indiana’s “quality of life, the culture of technological growth and evolution that we’ve experienced here.”

Here’s what else Hogsett told IBJ, just hours after Amazon announced that Indianapolis is among 20 cities that are finalists for the project.

IBJ: What’s your initial reaction to the news?

Hogsett: When you think about who made the finals and who didn’t, I think that even makes Indianapolis’ accomplishment and our future prospects even more exciting. When you look at the 17 areas that Amazon has decided upon and don’t see names like Phoenix, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Houston, Detroit, Charlotte, Louisville, places like that. … I’m really encouraged.

There are still a lot of names on this list that I know will be highly competitive. But when we’re now beating out Phoenix, Minneapolis, Houston and Charlotte for these types of bids, it indicates Indianapolis has come a long way.

The GM stamping plant has been widely rumored as a site. Is that in the proposal? Are there are other sites also proposed. Are any outside Marion County?

We’re approaching this as a region. Sites like the GM stamping plant would certainly be the type of sites that would probably be responsive to Amazon’s desires, should they desire to locate in downtown Indianapolis. But that’s where I need to draw the line.

Part of the reason we were successful is because we came together as a region and bid this with not only Marion County and Indianapolis, but all the contiguous counties in mind. I wouldn’t want to rule any site out over and above any alternative site.

We’ll let Amazon do that. We want to be as responsive as a region to anything and everything they deem relevant. Everything remains on the table.

 Would the Amazon project be well-suited for the 16 Tech site? Is that one of the options proposed?

I think the presence of 16 Tech is an asset that is attractive to Amazon. You can’t have what I think would be a transformative project in terms of research-based development and the kind of talent that 16 Tech will attract without it being an asset.

Whether it’s the GM stamping plant or 16 Tech or other sites located in Marion County or other sites or land available in the contiguous counties, one of the things that differentiated our bid from all the many other bids … was we really didn’t emphasize land. 

We emphasized a lot of other aspects of the quality of life, the culture of technological growth and evolution that we’ve experienced here. Not that real estate isn’t important, not that tax incentives aren’t important, but they’ve got to want to come here first. You have to convince them that this is a place where their employees are going to want to live, work and play.

Did the state go beyond its regular formula in offering incentives? Did the city propose a separate incentive package?

I think the bid included a number of incentive programs that we certainly made Amazon aware of that could be identified and taken advantage of including tax credits, exemptions, relocation and workforce grants, some permitting and other fee-type reductions.

In terms of the message we sent to Amazon, we were very interested in hearing what their needs were and how we could respond to those needs. For purposes of the competitive nature of the bid, that’s probably as far as I can go or should go in terms of speaking about the actual incentive package.

In all candor—I don’t mind admitting—the state was very helpful and Gov. [Eric] Holcomb and his administration have been very supportive, but understandably there were other regions in Indiana who were submitting bids. They were a little reluctant to pick and choose one region over another region in Indiana at this early stage.

Now, we’re the only remaining Indiana bid under consideration. So I think what you’ll find is those institutions that have been supportive but also mindful of being supportive of others, now all the eggs will be in one basket. I think our bid ultimately will be valued even greater. We’ll be able to take advantage of the full force of the assets.

Would you envision the city paying for infrastructure improvements and creating a TIF district?

We are prepared to look at anything and everything that would help secure the bid. I’m a fiscally prudent guy. I’m not going to do something or support something that is ultimately irresponsible. But this is also a project that may very well bring $5 billion in capital expenditures in central Indiana if we were selected. It’s a project that may very well bring 50,000 high-wage-earning employees to central Indiana within five to 10 years.

We will explore every reasonable and prudent venue to help Amazon come to the conclusion that central Indiana is a very competitive place to set up their new headquarters and we will remain as flexible as need be.

Does being on this list of 20 help Indianapolis land other companies? Or is the list still too long to be meaningful?

I can’t honestly say that people will base their decisions solely on those communities that seem to fit the Amazon view as a dispositive. But I think it’s fair to say that there’s probably no business in the nation that is not aware of these 20 names.

I do think that the fact we worked hard and submitted a very competitive bid, that Indianapolis’ reputation for talent attraction and retention, particularly as it relates to the growth of our tech community … I think speaks volumes about where Indianapolis is and how Indianapolis will continue to be viewed by those who have economic development opportunities.

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