Economic developers from Palm Beach County joins to woo Amazon

The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County agreed Wednesday to join forces with its counterparts in Broward and Miami-Dade counties to make a joint pitch for Amazon’s second headquarters.

“We’re going in as a region, and we’re making a play at this,” said Kelly Smallridge, head of the Business Development Board.

She called it the closest alliance formed by the three counties’ economic development organizations in decades — and a far cry from the days when the groups vied to lure employers across county lines.

Seattle-based Amazon opened a bidding war earlier this month when it unveiled plans to open another facility with 50,000 employees at an average salary of $100,000. It’s seeking proposals from regions with a population of at least a million people, and a frenzied competition already has begun to unfold.

Palm Beach County’s decision to work with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and the Beacon Council was partly in response to Amazon’s requirements. The Internet retailer is encouraging cities to submit only one proposal per metropolitan statistical area, and despite its population of 1.4 million, Palm Beach County is part of the Miami MSA.

There’s also the reality that Palm Beach County’s labor pool might not be deep enough to provide the tens of thousands of workers Amazon ultimately hopes to hire.

“You can have the most beautiful greenfield site, but if you don’t have the ability to produce the workforce they need, you don’t stand a chance,” Smallridge said.

Amazon stressed transit in its request for proposals, and South Florida is poised to get a rail service linking the downtowns in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

“I think the Brightline significantly strengthens our story,” Smallridge said.

One potential downside: Amazon wants incentives, and Florida lawmakers have signaled their skepticism about paying subsidies to employers. During the 2017 session, legislators cut the state’s budget for incentives.

“Certainly, the conversations in the last legislative session make it a little more difficult,” Smallridge said.

Amazon announced its plans for a second headquarters as Hurricane Irma threatened South Florida, so the region’s economic developers didn’t spring into action immediately. However, applicants have until Oct. 19 to submit applications.

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