Austin council member wants to pursue Amazon opportunity but has questions

An Amazon distribution center (Amazon Photo)
An Amazon distribution center (Amazon Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The day after news broke that the e-commerce giant Amazon was looking for a city to house its second headquarters, an Austin city council member wants to go after the opportunity.

District 2 Council Member Delia Garza wants to make the pitch but has some questions on what the end product would look like.

Amazon promises to spend $5 billion on the headquarters, bringing up to 50,000 new jobs with salaries averaging $100,000 a year.

Garza, who represents southeast Austin with the airport and major thoroughfares, can see the pluses. “If bringing a company like this helps our infrastructure in District 2, helps bus service in District 2, then those are things I want for my district,” said Garza.

But with crowded roads and soaring prices for property, she wants to make sure the move would be good for Austin too, not just Amazon.

“There’s, like I said, a lot of questions. Is it 50,000 new people? I could see where we don’t want 50,000 brand new people,” said Garza.

She came to a presentation from the National League of Cities and Main Street America which pointed out Austin’s economic benefits aren’t reaching everyone the same.

Dionne Baux from Main Street America told city leaders, “there seems to be a tension between attracting big companies and fostering small businesses.”

Drew Scheberle, from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said, “A second headquarters could have a total game changing impact on Austin and its future.” He says thousands of people are moving to Austin anyway and Amazon is a great opportunity for the entire city to get newcomers great jobs.

“Typically your large employers are the ones with a training budget that can take young, bright people, looking for their first career, train them up and help them move ahead in the world,” said Scheberle.

If Austin is going to make a play, they’ve got to do it by Oct. 19.

Amazon has some requirements for the future city. CNBC released a list of how the largest cities rank with some of those needs and found Austin only ranks on job growth and labor force education but is missing their requirements for airports and mass transit.

Some other requirements are more than one million people, a stable and business friendly environment and a development prepped site that would be a similar layout to the Seattle Amazon campus.

Taking a closer look at the Seattle headquarters, it’s located in the heart of the city which Amazon says allows 20 percent of employees to walk to work. Forty thousand employees work at the three million square foot building. It comes with public spaces inside, and out, along with an outdoor dog park, playing fields and a shared use street for cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Austin is no stranger to putting together incentive packages together.

Earlier this year, city leaders offered a $1 million incentive package for pharmaceutical company Merck. On top of that, the state offered a $6 million package.

In 2014, an economic incentive proposal to bring Websense and Dropbox to Austin, included $2 million for 10 years if they meet the city’s guidelines for job creation and wages. In 2013, the city of Austin approved $8.6 million for an apple facility. The state also added $21 million.

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