N.C. Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland won’t confirm whether Amazon visited the Triangle last week as part of the web giant's ongoing search for a new second headquarters.
But he didn’t deny it either in an interview on Wednesday.
“You know, some things one just can’t comment on,” Copeland said with a laugh.
On Tuesday, WRAL reported — citing anonymous sources — that Amazon officials visited the Triangle last week as part of its search. Amazon has previously said it will be visiting all 20 finalists for HQ2, and it has already reportedly visited the Washington, D.C., area and Atlanta.
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Developer John Kane, who was part of the regional partnership that helped sell the region to Amazon, said Wednesday that he didn't meet with any Amazon officials but that it was his understanding they were here. He didn't know what they were shown. Efforts to reach the Research Triangle Partnership, which manages the Triangle's bid, were not immediately successful.
Reports recently in Business Insider and USA Today have indicated that the Northern Virginia area has the edge because of its vast amount of data centers, proximity to the federal government and the fact that CEO Jeff Bezos has a home there.
Copeland said he doesn't think any city has a "lock" on getting HQ2 yet.
“I think North Carolina offers any and everything that Amazon would want,” Copeland said, adding that he doesn’t think the current state of the region's mass transit infrastructure would be a deal breaker for Amazon.
People forget “that (50,000) employees are not going to fall out of an airplane in one day, it’s over 16 years,” he said. “So, the infrastructure here, with the right of ways that have been built, the runways that are planned and starting at the airport, we are going to be adequate there in infrastructure.”
Copeland’s comments came at an event at glassware maker Corning’s manufacturing facility in north Durham County, which was attended by Gov. Roy Cooper and Sen. Richard Burr. New York-based Corning is investing $275 million of its capital in Durham and Edgecombe counties and adding 428 jobs to handle the manufacturing and distribution of its new pharmaceutical packaging material called Valor glass. The jobs were announced in December.
Burr also responded to speculation that Amazon had visited, while also adding that Apple — which wants to build another campus — is seriously considering North Carolina.
"I am hopeful that Amazon is serious about looking at North Carolina,” Burr said. “Apple is serious about looking at North Carolina. Toyota looked at North Carolina; unfortunately, they chose Alabama, but these are all companies that are going to continue to make capital investments somewhere in the United States.
“And North Carolina has been a bigger recipient of that capital than most states in the country."
But most of that capital influx has been to a select few counties near Raleigh and Charlotte, which is why so many public officials were on hand for the Corning event, which will add hundreds of jobs to both an urban county, Durham, and a rural county, Edgecombe.
“This is a perfect example of a wrap-around strategy that I try to have,” Copeland said. “What I mean about that is you have the state and the company working together, but you also have local governments in Durham and in Edgecombe all working together for a common purpose. That is how we are going to move North Carolina forward. … This is the casebook study.”
The state gave Corning an incentive worth $6 million, while Durham County chipped in $2.7 million. Corning currently has around 300 employees at its Treyburn Corporate Park facility in northern Durham County.
Corning — whose new jobs will offer an average salary of $65,999 in Durham and $33,771 in Edgecombe — had considered a South Carolina incentive package for the project, worth around $79 million, before choosing to expand in North Carolina.
Corning executive Eric Musser said North Carolina’s commitment of funds was critical in its decision to expand its existing facility in the state. Corning employs around 4,000 people across the state, Musser said.
At the event, Burr also thanked Cooper and Copeland for finding an economic development deal that included both an urban and rural component.
“Rural growth is a difficult task,” Burr said, noting that Edgecombe is one of the counties that needs it the most. The unemployment rate in Edgecombe County was 8.2 percent in February.
“But economic development is very much the function of infrastructure. Senator (Thom) Tillis and I, just last year, registered I-87, which will be a new corridor from Norfolk to Raleigh. That takes care of the last sector of North Carolina that didn’t have interstate designation and provides ... the kind of infrastructure (northeastern North Carolina) needs to attract capital.”