Small Texas town pitches open spaces to Amazon

Milam County, Texas (KXAN Photo)
Milam County, Texas (KXAN Photo)

MILAM COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Thursday is the deadline for cities looking to land the next Amazon headquarters. The chance to lure a $5 billion campus has prompted an all out bidding war with the biggest metro areas.

Now, a wild card an hour’s drive from Austin emerges.

Made up of little farm towns, Milam County is using its location to the prove it’s the perfect fit as the oasis outside of Austin.

“We’re not Austin, we’re not Dallas, we’re not San Antonio, we’re not Houston,” said Rockdale City Manager, Chris Whittaker. “So we offer that kind of country lifestyle of the opportunity for Amazon to shape their headquarters how they want.”

Milam County Judge, Dave Berkemeyer, made the announcement earlier in the week of the official bid to Amazon.

After hiring a consultant to help with promotions and creating a video called ‘Project Blue Sky’ highlighting the county’s low land costs and congestion-free roads — many are hoping the company will see prospects in its wide open spaces.

“Let’s say they come right in the middle of Austin, well they’re going to have to elbow their way in. With us, they won’t have to,” Judge Barkemeyer said.

Milam is a rural county, situated between Austin and College Station — a prime spot to recruit surrounding college grads.

Cameron, the county seat of Milam County, Texas (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)
Cameron, the county seat of Milam County, Texas (KXAN Photo/Alicia Inns)

“We’re in the middle of the triangle so we’re between Waco,Temple, Bryan-College Station and Austin, so we’ve got railroads, interstates, airports all around us and we’ve got the great universities around the triangle for Amazon to pull from,” Whittaker said.

However, the county is still reeling from the loss of the area’s largest employer.

In 2008, the aluminum manufacturer, Alcoa, halted work at its Rockdale plant and laid off more than 900 workers. “We have been in a declining tax base, a declining economic environment here for quite some time,” Berkemeyer said.

More unfortunate news came last week after Luminant announced the closing of the Sandow Power Plant in Milam County. Hundreds more will lose their jobs.

Now the county wants to bounce back, offering up Alcoa’s 33,000 acres of open fields and dozens of lakes to house Amazon.

“I think you can talk to someone here in the city or in the county and they want their lives to get better, they want restaurants, they want more people to come and visit, they want more tourists,” said Whittaker. “We want better roads and better infrastructure and this is the way to have it.”

Currently, Milam County’s population sits just over 24,000 people. Amazon’s new headquarters would triple the population of the entire county with plans to bring in 50,000 employees over the course of 5 years.

“We want them to live here, to shop here, to raise their kids here,” said Whittaker.

Perhaps there’s no congestion now, but bringing in so many people so fast means Milam County is going to have to deal with rapid growing pains.

“You’re never ready for anything like that,” said Judge Berkemeyer. “We will have to suddenly totally change your attitude and think about being a city instead of a sleepy little village.”

Many people who live in Rockdale, Cameron and surrounding areas choose to live there because it’s a sleepy village. Amazon has the potential to completely change that. It’s something both Austin and Milam County recognize.

“Listen to what your mayor is already saying,” Berkemeyer said of Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “I mean he’s having second thoughts like, ‘I don’t want to have to go through this again.'”

But change is exactly what some feel this country county needs.

“I think change is a way of life and we can see the progression of the folks leaving Austin heading this way already,” Whittaker said.

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