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North Texas Checks Several Boxes On Amazon's List, Except For Strong Public Transportation

Amazon's three giant glass biosphere domes under construction at its headquarters in downtown Seattle in February 2017.

When Amazon announced plans in September to build a second North American headquarters, it set off a mad scramble by cities to woo the world’s largest e-commerce company. Dallas-Fort Worth might be a strong contender for what looks to be a massive development. 

Still, the metroplex faces tough competition from cities across the country. In Texas alone, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso are all vying for that prize.

Why are cities competing so fiercely for Amazon?

Amazon says this second headquarters will be just as important as its original Seattle HQ. With the second site, the company promises up to 50,000 jobs at an average salary around $100,000. 

The behemoth retailer says it will spend at least $5 billion to build up to 8 million square feet of office space over the next decade, so the construction alone would be a big boon.

In Seattle, the company says its offices generate about $38 billion in the local economy every year. All of that makes city leaders, economic development people and chambers of commerce lick their chops.

What does Amazon want?

Amazon won't just settle anywhere, and has laid out a detailed outline for places it'd consider for its second headquarters. The company is looking for a big city — metro areas with more than a million people. North Texas certainly fits that bill. It wants a relatively inexpensive place to build and operate, which is also good for Dallas-Fort Worth.

Amazon is also looking for strong schools, a talented workforce and good transportation.

That last one may ding North Texas. While Dallas itself boasts the longest light-rail system in the country, Fort Worth hasn’t invested very heavily in transit and there’s not a ton in the suburbs. And, according to the Federal Transit Administration, North Texas isn’t even in the top 100 metro areas for public transportation ridership.

That said, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport helps the region’s chances. Proximity to a major international airport is one of the things Amazon wants.

Which North Texas cities are throwing their hat in the ring to land Amazon?

A dozen North Texas cities have floated the idea that they should get the campus. Dallas and Fort Worth are definitely working for it, so are smaller cities like Denton, Grapevine, and Irving. Frisco even made a video touting its virtues.

In Dallas, Trinity Groves is looking to be a serious contender. That’s the area just west of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. They’ve got the space and the proximity to amenities and transit. Deep Ellum has also been floated as a potential site. Some Oak Cliff developers are interested, and there is a proposal for Exposition Park in the works as well.

In Fort Worth, leaders have said Panther Island, the massive project north of downtown, would be a great site for Amazon. They also point out that the city already has a relationship with Amazon. The company has fulfillment centers in North Fort Worth and just outside, in Haslett. Plus, the Star-Telegram reports that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’ sister lived in Fort Worth in the 1990s, and he’s said he’s a big fan of Joe T. Garcia’s salsa.

In the end, it'll be more of a group effort than a competition among neighbors. Amazon wants each metro area to submit just one proposal, which will mean congealing around one or a few potential sites and pitching Dallas-Fort Worth as a region by the Oct. 19 deadline.

What are the downsides?

First, Amazon is also looking for a good deal: tax breaks, subsidies, fee reductions, grants for workforce or relocation, etc. Basically, the company wants cities and states to offer up a combination of money and other financial enticements. That’s not unique; this is how economic development works these days when it comes to landing these big corporate campuses.

Critics say these kinds of megadeals are a race to the bottom that can squander taxpayer dollars. Just this year, Wisconsin announced it would fork over $3 billion to electronics manufacturer Foxconn to set up a factory. Iowa gave a $213-million deal to Apple, which comes out at about $4 million per job.

There’s also some potential downside of adding tens of thousands of workers in the middle of a city. Amazon’s mostly been considered a benefit to downtown Seattle, but it’s also credited with creating traffic problems.

And with so many high-paid tech workers – a good thing, generally — that’s also helped lead to sky-rocketing housing prices in Seattle, too. That’s a familiar thing in North Texas, where a lot of big companies move to North Texas in recent years, adding to an affordable housing crunch.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.