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Researcher says Upstate an option for Amazon HQ2

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A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranked the top 20 contenders in the bid for Amazon.com Inc.’s next headquarters. While the Upstate did not make the list, a Clemson University professor said not to count out the region.

Scott Baier, professor and department chairman of the John E. Walker department of economics at Clemson University, said the Upstate does meet the requirements Amazon is looking for in its next headquarters.

“We do have the proximity of all the transportation that they are looking for, and we have the human capital,” Baier said. “This is a growing area, and the price of land is still pretty cheap.”

While the focus of the Brookings report was on Atlanta, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., Baier said the Upstate has similar attributes such as the proximity of universities, which could serve as recruiting ground for the 50,000 employees Amazon said it plans to hire for its second headquarters.

“Geographically, we work and we look good given our position,” Baier said. “Looking at potential growth, Greenville-Spartanburg could be a good place.”

Spearheaded by the Upstate SC Alliance, the region submitted a proposal to Amazon. Jacob Hickman, director of business recruitment with the alliance, said the region’s bid highlighted the Upstate’s proximity to Atlanta and Charlotte by selling the region as “The Center of Charlanta.”

Amazon’s request for proposal included 8 million square feet of space for its second headquarters. Hickman wasn’t specific about where in the Upstate that square footage was available, only to say “sites from throughout the 10-county Upstate are proposed for real estate consideration.”

“I would think finding that amount of land would be easier to find here than it would be in Atlanta, Washington or even Boston,” Baier said. “You are going to have to displace something, and that would be easier to do here than in those other areas.”

To be eligible, Amazon required all bidders to have 1 million or more people in their area. Hickman said the regional approach is a way to make the Upstate fulfill the requirements Amazon is seeking.

“On paper, our region can sometimes be overlooked because it contains two metropolitan statistical areas: the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin MSA, home to 824,112, and the Spartanburg MSA, home to 313,268,” Hickman said. “But by having a community that is so supportive of economic development and willing to pull together, our team has the resources to be proactive and present the Upstate as an exceptional location to live, work and play.”

Baier said it was important to look at Amazon’s requirements as something scalable over time rather than an immediate need. He said the regional approach was the only way any location in the Upstate could be considered, especially given Amazon’s proposed needs of 8 million square feet and 50,000 employees.

“If they choose here, they would look at it as a place where people will move and have a highly educated workforce,” Baier said. “That workforce is here, but not to the mass. This area is growing, and putting Amazon here would certainly expedite that.

“I think they have to be looking at this organically. If Amazon has a vision of what something will be 15, 20 or 25 years down the road, Greenville moves up in the ranks.”

Hickman said the process of working with partners within the Upstate SC Alliance was “a great exercise,” whether or not the Upstate wins the project that’s expected to pump more than $5 billion in capital expenditures over the five to 10 years following the announcement.

“This truly highlights our abilities to work as a unified region rather than 10 individual counties,” Hickman said. “This will only make us stronger, improving our process and creating a template for recruiting future headquarters projects.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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