Virginia is making a big play to land the $5 billion Amazon HQ2 project, but the state and regions in its urban crescent also are looking for outside help to prepare to compete for other corporate headquarter sites in the future.
A day after Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms publicly revealed a private plan to compete for the coveted Amazon project to build a second headquarters, the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe acknowledged it is looking to engage private firms to help with the competition for new corporate headquarters — without naming the prospects.
“With support from the McAuliffe administration and local and regional partners, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership is planning to engage multiple third-party firms to help prepare Virginia to effectively compete for large, high-quality corporate headquarters projects,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd P. Haymore, a director of the semi-independent state authority.
“This thorough and strategic planning work will support a variety of current and future corporate headquarters recruitment projects, as well as other potential investment and job creating opportunities,” Haymore said in a statement Wednesday.
State officials won’t publicly confirm the details released by Sessoms and first reported Wednesday by The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, but they have not denied that Virginia plans to contract with McKinsey & Co., a global management consultant company based in New York, to prepare proposals for potential sites for the new Amazon headquarters in the Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads regions.
The Virginian-Pilot reported the state is looking for financial contributions from the three regions and their localities to help pay for the $1 million consulting contract, which would prepare a unified effort to land a project that would create up to 50,000 jobs and require from 500,000 to 8 million square feet of space.
State officials and legislators reportedly were furious with Sessoms’ indiscretion on such a high-stakes economic development prospect. House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, wouldn’t comment directly on the report, but he said he supports the VEDP plan to engage outside firms to take a hard look at the state’s competitive standing.
“A true assessment of our strengths and weaknesses is important for many, many reasons,” said Jones, who led the legislative effort this year to overhaul governance and strategic planning at the partnership. “For us to be competitive, we have to know where we truly stand in today’s business environment.”
State officials see the HQ2 project, shorthand for the second headquarters site in North America for the Seattle-based online retail colossus, as a potential catalyst for other big corporate projects in Virginia’s most populated and developed urban corridor.
Amazon already has a close working relationship with Virginia, where the company operates three retail distribution centers, including one in Chesterfield County, with another one coming in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
The company’s investment in the state also ranges from a major data center in Northern Virginia to commitment to purchase electricity produced by solar power facilities that Dominion Energy is acquiring from central Virginia to the Eastern Shore.
Amazon set off the modern equivalent of a land rush Sept. 7, when it announced that it is looking for sites to develop a second headquarters in North America to complement a campus in Seattle that employs tens of thousands of people, sprawls across 33 buildings, and injects billions of dollars into the city’s economy.
The request for proposals sets a deadline of Oct. 19 for states, provinces and metropolitan areas to submit ideas, preferably on a regional basis.
On its face, the company’s preferences don’t sound like Richmond or Virginia Beach. The company is looking at metropolitan areas with at least 1 million people, but it also wants access to mass transit and an international airport within a 45-minute drive.
While both regions boast of international airports with some mass transit, Northern Virginia offers access to three major airports with direct flights to major cities. It also has a Metro transit system that, while financially and operationally troubled, is extending a Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.
Sessoms thinks Hampton Roads has a hidden advantage in underseas high-speed data cables being built across the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and Virginia Beach, according to The Virginian-Pilot. He told the paper that Virginia Beach plans to contribute $200,000 toward the state contract with McKinsey to compete for the Amazon project.