The Twin Cities is joining a fierce race for a new Amazon.com Inc. campus, one that will pit cities across North America against one another for the chance to become the retail giant’s second home.
In an unusual open call, Seattle-based Amazon said Thursday it would accept proposals from metro areas and states for a $5 billion second headquarters. The campus would eventually employ 50,000 people.
Minnesota leaders immediately jumped at the chance to woo the company — whose proposed workforce expansion would dramatically dwarf the footprints of other Fortune 500 organizations that already reside in the area. So did leaders in cities from Toronto to Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas.
Regional nonprofit Greater MSP is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to respond to Amazon’s request, which is due Oct. 19. Amazon will choose the location some time next year.
“This definitely would be great for our region,” said Mike Brown, vice president of marketing and communications for Greater MSP. “Amazon opened here recently and has been a great addition to the region. These are good jobs that they are hoping to add. It plays right into our strengths.”
The groups will determine the best course of action, including any financial incentives, Brown said.
“It’s a huge request so we need to get a lot of our partners involved,” he said.
Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement that he has directed DEED to work with city, regional and state partners on the Amazon proposal. He will meet Friday with Shawntera Hardy, the agency’s commissioner, to discuss how to best “leverage” the state’s assets for the request.
“Amazon has already had a positive impact on business and career opportunities in our state,” Hardy said in a statement. “Time and again, Minnesota has proven that when businesses start, relocate or grow in our state, they are afforded the tools and resources to make them successful. We are committed to continuing that legacy.”
Amazon employs 1,500 people, with the intent to hire more, at a fulfillment center in Shakopee and also operates a smaller sorting center there and a small distribution center for Prime Now in southeast Minneapolis.
Earlier this year, Amazon also signed a lease to open a local technology development office in the new T3 building in the North Loop of Minneapolis.
One challenge for Amazon or any other large employer is how to find so many workers in a state with a low unemployment rate, which in July held at 3.7 percent, lower than the national rate of 4.3 percent.
“We will certainly have to address how we will help them find workers,” Brown said.
In Seattle, Amazon has more than 40,000 employees in 33 buildings on its sprawling downtown campus, which takes up more than 8 million square feet of space. Amazon claims that its investments in the city have contributed an additional $38 billion to Seattle’s overall economy.
The campus occupies 19 percent of all prime office space in Seattle, the most for any employer in a major U.S. city, according to an analysis conducted for the Seattle Times.
Amazon said its preference for a second headquarters site is a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people with a business-friendly environment and the ability to attract and retain strong technical talent.
“We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and chief executive, in a statement. “Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”
The online retailer also said it was looking for a community that would “think big and creatively” about real estate options. Amazon said it will consider retrofitting existing structures, though it will prioritize shovel-ready sites where it can construct its own buildings.
State Rep. Paul Thissen, a DFLer who is running for governor, suggested the former Ford plant property in St. Paul, which sprawls 122 acres, or the 427-acre Arden Hills armory site as possibilities.
If Amazon did come to the home of rivals Target and Best Buy and hired the number of people it is alluding to, it would become the largest employer in the state.
Currently, Mayo Clinic is the top employer with more than 41,000, according to DEED. Target has more than 26,000, Best Buy has 8,000 and 3M 15,000.
Wells Fargo, which is ranked ninth on the list with 20,000 employees throughout the state, last summer moved into two newly built towers in downtown Minneapolis near U.S. Bank Stadium. The matching bank buildings have a combined 1.1 million square feet of space and house 5,000 people, meaning it would take about 15 of those individual towers to equal the amount of office space Amazon now has in Seattle.
“There are a lot of different possibilities on the real estate side,” said Russ Nelson, president of Minneapolis-based real estate and project management firm NTH, though he said to start speculating about potential campus sites would be a “fool’s game” at this point.
“Fifty thousand people would be 8 [million] to 10 million square feet,” he said. “Wow. … It’s an immense deal.”
Minneapolis city staff didn’t offer a comment Thursday on the Amazon proposal besides to say that the city is working on it and it is still early in the process.
Gubernatorial candidate and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the city has “numerous opportunities” that would meet Amazon’s needs.
“I look forward to engaging with partners throughout the region to compete for the 50,000 jobs Amazon will create with its new headquarters,” he said in a statement.
Scott Burns, a member of St. Paul’s Innovation Cabinet and chief executive of software company Structural, said the Twin Cities is a prime location to grow a tech business. Burns, who sold St. Paul-based GovDelivery for $153 million last year, said the region’s investments in infrastructure like mass transit and wealth of creative talent are just a few of the positives in its favor.
He acknowledged that the selection process will likely be highly competitive.
“If somebody offered me a chance to bat in the World Series, I would do it even though I’m likely to bat out,” Burns said. “Just competing is worthwhile and this is a big enough opportunity to do that. This is a compelling, game-changing opportunity, and we absolutely have earned the right to be at the table.”
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.