Government and economic leaders in two Western New York cities believe that by joining in a strategic collaboration, they are raising the region's chances for attracting one of the most coveted economic development projects in recent memory, Amazon's proposed second North American headquarters.
Representatives of Invest Buffalo Niagara and Greater Rochester Enterprise announced Thursday that the two markets will unite to submit a singular bid for what is being called Amazon's "HQ2." The online commerce and cloud computing company proposed a second North American headquarters and, on September 7, issued a request for proposals.
"The concept came up that there are tremendous strengths in the combined region, in the Buffalo-Rochester region," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "Very early on, we made the decision that we would team up and we would work together, with the state as a partner."
Amazon hints its HQ2 may require $5 billion in capital spending and could create up to 50,000 new full-time jobs over a 10- to 15-year period, with average annual salaries exceeding $100,000.
Thomas Kucharski is president and chief executive officer of Invest Buffalo Niagara, which covers eight counties in Western New York. He said after all parties signed a non-disclosure agreement, they sought an opinion from Amazon itself about whether this would be a desired direction. He told WBFO even the company liked the idea.
"Now we're making ourselves big," he said. "We already have so much data that we work on in attracting business, anyway. Our challenge was how to put together a work team to distill this voluminous compendium of information down to something that meets what Amazon is asking for."
Greater Rochester Enterprise, meanwhile, represents nine counties in the Rochester and Finger Lakes Region. Its interim president and CEO, Matt Hurlbutt, says both cities offer high-quality work forces and dozens of colleges and research universities. But if they lack any other amenities that larger cities may offer, this corridor offers other advantages.
"We're very cost-competitive, especially against larger metropolitan area and we've got a great quality of life," Hurlbutt said. "So it's that whole live-work-play opportunity to transform an urban center and to really grow."
Leaders will not disclose what sites each city may pitch, or if they may be envisioning a locale somewhere in between, but Mayor Brown shared Hurlbutt's opinion that the corridor offers advantages including a relatively easy commute, even if Amazon were to decide on a location closer to Rochester.
"If this goes anywhere within this corridor, it's going to be good for our entire region," Brown said. "I remember growing up as a child in New York City before I came here to attend college. My parents had to commute from Queens into New York City. That exceeds the commute between Buffalo and Rochester.
"I think this makes a lot of sense. I think it is creative that the second and third largest municipalities in the State of New York are coming together in this way to compete for the Amazon headquarters and to try to bring these jobs back to our region."
Kucharski pointed out that even if a specific location doesn't become the spot where Amazon sets up shop, having such a corporate giant in the neighborhood will make the entire region attractive, giving that location a better chance to secure a future economic development project.
"You've got different parts of the region that are really good at different things. You already started to see this happen with Athenex going down into the Southern Tier," he said. "The message this would send to site selectors and to companies, whether they're in technology or in logistics of life sciences, it basically says Amazon has all kinds of resources to investigate where they want to go. They could have gone anywhere and they went to Western New York and Central New York. We ought to check that out."
And as for the message to Amazon? Kucharski suggests they're getting one forward that Buffalo an Rochester takes this opportunity seriously and will pitch the region based on its assets, without any gimmicks.
"It's really interesting to see what other communities are doing. All you have to do is Google it and see some of the insane stuff folks are doing. It's interesting to hear through the grapevine that it's not appreciated," he said. "It's like 'this is our future, this is our business, we want to make a good decision here, we don't care about that stuff.'"
The deadline to submit bids is October 19. Kucharski said it "is anyone's guess" as to when and how Amazon will then make a decision.
WXXI's Randy Gorbman contributed to this report.