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Wake County was prepared to pay Amazon a record-setting amount for HQ2

Alexa ‘apologizes’ to Raleigh-Durham for not getting Amazon HQ2

With Amazon's HQ2 sites selected, 18 cities are left feeling a little dejected after spending millions of dollars and months courting and waiting. Austin-based ad agency McGarrah Jessee created an apology from Alexa. (Not actually Alexa)
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With Amazon's HQ2 sites selected, 18 cities are left feeling a little dejected after spending millions of dollars and months courting and waiting. Austin-based ad agency McGarrah Jessee created an apology from Alexa. (Not actually Alexa)

Wake County was prepared to offer Amazon its largest-ever incentive package and one that could have been worth up to $277 million if it had chosen to place HQ2 in Raleigh.

According to a letter the county sent to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina in February, Wake would have paid the grant over a 15-year period in exchange for the creation of “61,875 full-time net new jobs having an average annual salary in excess of $100,000 and a capital investment estimated at $6 billion over a 15-year period.”

Normally grants from Wake County are paid out over an eight-year period, but the Wake County commissioners met in a closed session in October to agree on an offer to extend the county’s grant period from eight years to 15 years for the Amazon project, according to the letter.

Wake Tech also offered between $1,800 and $2,000 per job for “customized training support,” according to the minutes from the closed session.

The $277 million figure was based off the project having a net new assessed tax value of $600 per square foot. The letter notes that currently, “the highest assessed value commercial property in the region is in the $200 per square foot range” so “if the net new assessed tax value was in this range, the grant value could be valued at $106,087,500.”

The incentive package would’ve been the biggest grant ever paid by Wake County — and Amazon’s proposed $6 billion investment would’ve been the biggest investment ever made in Wake as well, said Alice Avery, a communications specialist for Wake County.

Amazon said on Tuesday that it would place its expanded headquarters in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Queens, New York. Raleigh had been one of the 20 finalists for HQ2, with local officials shopping properties near downtown as places the company could possibly locate, The News & Observer has previously reported.

Amazon visited Raleigh in March to take a tour of the city and meet with university, political and economic development leaders — but communication between Amazon and the state cooled off immediately after that visit.

The Wake County letter, which referred to HQ2 as Project Smith, was obtained via a public records request. The letter didn’t include how much the state was willing to give Amazon through its Job Development Investment Grant program. Amazon said it received $1.5 billion in incentives from New York and $573 million from Virginia.

Wake County did not spend any money in relation to the recruitment of Amazon, Avery said.

Despite not landing HQ2, Adrienne Cole, the president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said just being among the finalists lifted Raleigh’s brand across the country.

“I think we are really becoming known as an innovation hub, and as a place that is great for information technology,” Cole said in an interview. “For companies that are looking across the country (for expansion), having the Triangle on (Amazon’s) list will make companies go, ‘Huh, we should consider that area, too.’”

She said the city’s ultimate weakness was probably that it just wasn’t as big as New York and D.C.

Last year, The N&O reported that the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce calculated that Durham would need to offer Amazon an incentive package of around $50 million based on the projected size of HQ2. That number was based on existing city and county policies, though the city of Durham never submitted an official bid nor discussed incentives. The region’s proposal to Amazon eventually focused on areas in Wake County.

(Clarification: A previous version of this story was unclear about who calculated potential incentives for Amazon from the city and county of Durham. It was the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.)

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