Experts: Amazon headquarters try good for Little Rock

Benefits seen for later project bids


Little Rock's attempt to land Amazon's second headquarters will be good experience for the city, two Arkansas economists said Tuesday.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola wrote Monday on Twitter that the city "will Think Big and Be Creative" to attract the technology giant, echoing Amazon's request for proposals that communities "think big and creatively."

Last week, Amazon said it expects to spend more than $5 billion to build a second headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees, who would earn more than $100,000 in total compensation annually.

"Going through the effort to put together a package to put the best face on the city is an investment to try to tackle other [future efforts] in the area as well," said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission declined to comment on a role it might play in the attempt to attract Amazon, a publicly traded U.S. firm and a leading Internet retailer and technology company.

Seattle-based Amazon currently has 380,000 employees at multiple facilities in North America and throughout the world.

The company estimates its investments in Seattle from 2010 to 2016 resulted in an additional $38 billion to the city's economy.

Amazon's criteria for its second headquarters include a population of 1 million or more, the ability to attract and retain strong technical talent, and direct access to mass transit. The Little Rock metropolitan area has a population of about 730,000.

Reader poll

Should Little Rock submit an application for Amazon's second headquarters?

  • Yes, it's worth it for a project that could bring great things to the city 67% 169 votes
  • No, the city doesn't fulfill the qualifications and it's not worth the effort 32% 81 votes

250 total votes.

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"It seems like based on the criteria [Amazon] set that we fall a little short," Pakko said. "But it doesn't hurt to put in a bid."

Another Amazon requirement for its new co-headquarters is for the location to be within 45 minutes of an airport with direct international flights, which now are unavailable the city's own airport, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, the state's largest.

Jim Dailey, the chairman of the Little Rock Municipal Airport, which sets policy for the airport, said Tuesday that would change, if necessary, to compete for the Amazon investment.

"If that's what it takes for us to be able to compete, then I can assure you the Little Rock airport is ready to step up to the plate," Dailey told Little Rock television station KATV, Channel 7.

Mervin Jeberaj, interim director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas' Sam M. Walton College of Business, also said it doesn't hurt to submit a bid, adding it could be used as a "measuring stick" for cities like Little Rock.

"A lot of places can use this to say, 'We're not there yet, but what would it take or what do we need to be there at some point in the future? And what steps are we taking?'" Jeberaj said.

Stodola was unavailable for comment Tuesday. He said in a statement that some of Amazon's requirements are challenging, but Little Rock's "talent pool is deep."

"Amazon is looking for strong local and regional talent in software and related fields and is particularly interested in entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunity of the digital economy," Stodola said.

The initial space Amazon requires is 500,000 square feet, but it wants to be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

Amazon has 33 buildings at its headquarters in Seattle with 8.1 million square feet.

Oct. 19 is the deadline to provide proposals. Several cities across the U.S. already have vocalized their intent to put together a proposal for Amazon, including Tulsa and Memphis.

Jeberaj said landing Amazon's second headquarters will have a large economic impact on any city that is selected, adding thousands of high-income jobs.

But he said there are potential pitfalls, as well, such as the availability of affordable housing for cities not prepared.

"The regions that are probably going to be falling over themselves trying to compete for this need to remember that unless they're going to make serious investments in housing -- and, really, that means you want to be able to rezone your cities to have more dense housing -- you're going to import, along with 50,000 jobs, all the problems that the big cities on the West Coast have," Jeberaj said.

Information for this article was contributed by Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 09/13/2017


RBear says...

Even though I've already written about why I don't think Little Rock is even in the first cut, I agree it's good to put together a bid to allow the city to look at where we stand in the key areas any company would look at for location or relocation of offices. You don't know until you self-evaluate and that's what this is. I do caution on city officials making false statements about our current state. Stodola's coment about a deep talent pool in Little Rock are misleading. If the pool was so deep, it wouldn't be so hard to find that talent for some of the tech jobs I've seen posted for Little Rock companies. Our tech pool is shallow, except when Acxiom goes through a layoff spree.
But just putting a bid together isn't enough. From there you need to focus on how to close the gaps you find with policy, projects, and people. Take for example, our anemic public transit system. It's a great basic system and its current director is doing the best with what he has. But it's no where near where it needs to be to address the needs of an urban core, much less a major corporate campus like HQ2.
Follow that with our public school system. You can bet Amazon will be looking at that when considering HQ2, even though it's not directly called out in the bid RFP. As its employees locate or relocate to the campus, they want good innovative schools around them. Yes, they'll probably focus on the private system as well since they'll have the income and eSTEM can help meet those needs. But many will want to send their kids to public school and we are just not there yet.
It'll be interesting to see what bid Little Rock puts forth. I hope it will be available to the public to review so we can ALL see where the gaps are. Then we can collectively work as a community to help fill those gaps.

Posted 13 September 2017, 6:56 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

1. No, there is NO tech talent pool in LR. We've tried to hire. Stodola isn't misleading, he's wrong. Speaking of tech, what's going on with the waste of money Tech Park?
2. LR does not have the population to support robust (i.e. convenient) mass transit. When it takes <30 minutes to get to work, people aren't going to take a bus. This won't be a case of if you build it...
3. The LRSD won't improve until current leadership is gone. When two former school board members, who were part of the problem, can file suit claiming long-term racial disparity in a district they had control of, for the sole purpose of disrupting the state, the system is broken.
This bid is a joke. Done because Stodola is trying to show that he's doing something for the city. Speaking of which, it's time we simply abolish either the Mayor or City Manager position. We don't need a two headed government anymore. Maybe we can put that $500k toward Bear's mass transit.

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:19 a.m. Suggest removal

billyo says...

LR must solve its crime problem before it becomes even remotely attractive to any new business.

Posted 13 September 2017, 8:24 a.m. Suggest removal

applegg says...

This is a total joke. There is no technical talent pool in Little Rock. None of the other criteria are met either. A waste of time and effort. Not to mention crime and the fact that anyone who can afford it sends their kids to private schools.

Posted 13 September 2017, 1:05 p.m. Suggest removal

DoubleBlind says...

I agree that LR has no shot at being selected but I would ask those whose comments suggest the attempt is not worth the effort to throttle your feedback. I have no doubt LR will be eliminated but Amanzon's response should be shared widely and thoroughly assessed to determine areas AR needs to improve in order to be competitive moving forward. I was originally completely dismissive. I now believe this to be a very worthwhile effort. No doubt the feedback will be brutal, but coming from an org like Amazaon and thousands of jobs at stake, LR has no alternative but to address it.

Posted 13 September 2017, 1:38 p.m. Suggest removal

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