Government

Somers Making Bid for Amazon HQ2

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Somers Supervisor Rick Morrisssey at a press conference annoouncing the effort to entice Amazon to the region.
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SOMERS, N.Y.--Somers has joined a full-throated county effort to make Westchester the home of a major corporate headquarters for Amazon, a move that could bring as many as 50,000 new jobs to the area.

“When you look at the criteria for what Amazon is looking for, we match up perfectly,” County Executive Robert P. Astorino declared in announcing the county’s pending Amazon courtship. “We feel very strongly that we are the smartest choice for Amazon.”

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, announced last month that it has begun a nationwide search for a compatible corporate site.

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At stake for the region is the prospect of landing a major corporation and the tens of thousands of high-paying jobs Amazon said it expects to create. For Somers, it could mean a wildly successful tenant for either of its vacant IBM or PepsiCo properties—or both. All told, they offer some 1.5 million square feet of space. 

Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey, whose town suffered back-to-back body blows with the abrupt loss of long-time corporate citizens IBM and PepsiCo, appeared with Astorino at a Sept. 26 County Center press conference. Making the case for his town, Morrissey noted that “Somers has world-class commercial real estate in a strategic location, providing easy access to three Metro-North train stations, highways and area airports.”

In remarks at the press conference and later on social media, he called Somers “one of the most strategic areas in the metropolitan area. “Tech companies have thrived in suburban enclaves, and Somers is fertile ground for the East Coast tech scene.”

Morrissey noted that Somers “is located in New York’s intellectual capital with a highly educated and talented work force, close to world-renowned colleges and universities, at the northern cross-section of the greatest metropolitan area in the world.”  

Other county officials, leaders in commerce and labor and others joined Astorino and Morrissey.

In his quest to land what Amazon is styling as HQ2, Astorino said he is also “working with the mayors” of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and White Plains on pitches to Amazon. “Others may step forward,” Astorino said.

The county’s economic development office will combine those individual municipal pitches to create a single, consolidated package spelling out the opportunities and economic incentives that Westchester can provide.  

In the end, of course, incentives—tax breaks, fee reductions, grants and other government-proffered goodies—could prove to be the ultimate scale-tipper in Amazon’s decision-making. 

Amazon, for its part, candidly acknowledges the importance of a suitor’s generous economic package. The company warns that “a project of this magnitude may require special incentive legislation...to achieve a competitive incentive proposal.” 

George Oros, the director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, “is prepared to offer a number of incentives,” Astorino said, and is “working with state officials to make certain we have the most competitive package available.”  

The competition is expected to be wide and deep as municipalities from coast to coast and Canada, too, throw open the candy store and fashion the sweetest deals they can. Somers joins such places as Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and nearby Danbury, Tucson, Ariz.; Ottawa, Canada; and Washington, D.C., as contenders publicly courting Amazon. More—many more—seem certain to emerge by the Oct. 19 deadline for states to file applications on behalf of their municipal hopefuls.

The winning municipality, expected to be announced next year, can expect to add as many as 50,000 jobs to its region. “The jobs,” Amazon says, “will likely be broken down into the following categories: executive/management, engineering with a preference for software development engineers (SDE), legal, accounting and administrative.” The jobs’ “average annual total compensation,” the company says, would top $100,000 over the next 10 to 15 years.

Amazon’s Request for Proposal, or RFP, an eight-page document issued to potential suitors, contains almost 3,000 words of preferences and requirements.

In choosing the location for HQ2, the RFP says Amazon prefers, among other things, a metropolitan area with more than a million people, a business-friendly environment and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.” 

Those specifications are all “pretty good ones for Somers,” said one development professional, who asked not to be identified.

But Amazon’s RFP also calls for “an urban or suburban location with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.”

Somers, situated on Westchester’s northernmost boundary, will find it “more difficult” to check that box, the development specialist said. 

“The recent trend in business relocation tends to be as close to a large-city downtown as possible or a close-in location,” he said. “Somers may be seen as the outer range of this business goal. I sense that part of the IBM and PepsiCo decisions were influenced by this new trend.”

PepsiCo (in 2015) and IBM Corp. (in 2016) announced they were pulling out operations that for some 30 years had been part of Somers. They would consolidate those functions at their corporate headquarters, closer to New York City, in Purchase and Armonk, respectively.

“Certainly in Connecticut the GE decision to move from Fairfield to Boston was heavily influenced by attracting young talent,” the development specialist said.

New York City will compete strongly on this point, he said, as will smaller cities like White Plains or Stamford that provide amenities and housing and have strong and fast rail connection to New York City.

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