Middlesex County, New Brunswick and Rutgers University officials are eyeing the Hub City and surrounding area as a potential spot for Amazon’s “HQ2,”an East Coast headquarters, that would employ as many as 50,000 people
The online retail giant, which is headquartered in Seattle, announced its plans earlier this month to pump $5 billion into the project, and is seeking proposals from interested cities by Oct. 19.
“Middlesex County has everything that Amazon is seeking, and we are working with our partners to put the strongest possible proposal together to bring Amazon to our community,” Middlesex County Freeholder Ronald Rios said in a statement.
“Why? This could mean 50,000 new, full-time jobs. It will boost the local and regional economies,” Rios said “It will raise the quality of life of all our residents and enhance our already strong business environment.”
Chris Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), suggested putting HQ2 in The Hub @ New Brunswick Station, a 1.7 million square foot, mixed use redevelopment project at the former site of the Ferren Mall on Albany Street.
“New Brunswick is the clear choice of NJ,” Paladino wrote on Sept. 17. “Mass transportation, Rutgers engineering and business school graduates, a walkable city, restaurants, theater district and an engaged, supportive local and county government.”
DEVCO will be working with Rutgers University and Middlesex officials to put together a proposal that meets all of Amazon’s criteria.
Among those criteria in Amazon’s request for proposals are a “metropolitan area with more than a million people, a stable and attractive business-friendly environment and urban and suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain talent.”
A potential HQ2 should be between 500,000 and 8 million square feet, reads the RFP. Among the preferences in the RFP, the HQ2 site should be an urban or downtown campus, a layout similar to that in Seattle and that the location is a development-prepped site.
“We want to encourage states/provinces and communities to think creatively for viable real estate options, while not negatively affecting our preferred timeline,” reads the RFP.
In addition to The Hub, the New Brunswick proposal would also utilize Rutgers’ Innovation Center in Piscataway and the tech park on the northbound side of Route 1 in North Brunswick, Paladino said.
Middlesex County already has several Amazon fulfillment centers, including one in Avenel and another in Carteret, with another one scheduled to open in Edison.
City, university and county officials are also working with the NJ Economic Development Authority’s “Grow New Jersey Program,” Paladino added.
Grow NJ, comprised of the EDA, Choose NJ, the Business Action Center and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, is primarily behind the effort to attract the HQ2.
The consortium is seeking proposals from cities and towns across all 21 counties, after which it will submit what it believes is the strongest possible proposal.
An editorial by NJBiz wrote that many of New Jersey’s cities, including Jersey City, New Brunswick and Newark “all say they have what it takes - and they do.” The editorial also listed Atlantic City and Camden as potential contenders.
To draw in potential businesses to the state, the EDA offers an array of tax credits, including $20 to $120 per square foot, base awards ranging for $500 to $5,000 per job, per year, for up to 10 years, and bonus awards of between $250 and $3,000 per employee per year, based on factors such as location, industry, salary levels and number of jobs.
But Gordon MacInnes, president of NJ Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank based in Trenton, cast doubt on the effectiveness of tax breaks.
“The notion that the tax break by itself determines the decision of the corporation as to where they’re going to move, I think that’s a false assumption,” MacInnes said, and that other factors are more important.
Companies might moved to the state because of its proximity to New York City and Newark Liberty International Airport, a highly educated workforce and “great towns and public schools,” MacInnes said.