By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia city officials are working feverishly against an October 19th deadline to submit a bid to host Amazon HQ2, highlighting its wealth of universities, mass transit and quality of life, while designing a package of incentives that will set it apart from the dozens of other metro areas currently doing the same thing.

“It’s all hands on deck and they’ve been working on nothing but it,” Mayor Kenney said in a Monday interview with Bloomberg News.

Tasks include finding the right real estate, getting the backing of other local businesses and institutions, including state government, and calculating how much incentives such as the city’s ten-year tax abatement and Keystone Opportunity Zone benefits amount to in dollar figures.

Some professionals have suggested Amazon may be looking for $10 billion in incentives for the $5 billion project but senior deputy commerce director Duane Bumb says that is just speculation.

“I think all we can do is make a clear case that we are the best site to meet the requirements and that we are putting every resource that we can identify on the table for them,” Bumb says.

The tight deadline does have the city somewhat strapped-in to sites within Keystone Opportunity Zones, which include one at the Navy Yard and two in the University City area.

“It does make it difficult for us on short notice to put together a quantifiable incentive package for sites that don’t have certain benefits as a matter of right,” says Bumb.

Amazon’s RFP calls for an initial development of 500,000 square feet, growing to 8 Million square feet so Bumb says the 10-year real estate tax abatement could prove very valuable. He says the city is also studying business tax abatements at the state and local level that would fit the project.

Local business leaders assure there would be no opposition to, or requests for parity of, special incentives for Amazon and elected officials say they’re on board. Governor Wolf says he will do all he can to promote Pennsylvania as a site. Pittsburgh is also making a bid.

Those endorsements are important because the RFP states, “A stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure will be
high-priority considerations.”

The Chamber of Commerce neatly avoided that issue in its letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, citing “A unique spirit of collaboration and innovation,” rather than its relations with city government.

The Chamber has complained the city is not friendly to business, recently suing over a law that would have barred employers from asking a job applicant’s wage history.

Council members have also demanded proof that businesses deliver benefits they promise when they receive tax incentives. It was Helen Gym’s first measure as a councilwoman.

“We’re not giving away the store for free,” she says.

While she supports the bid for Amazon, she says she would “be cautious about making sure the benefit is all around. I would want to see Amazon be committed to that.”

Mayor Kenney, in the Bloomberg interview, acknowledged that “We’ve gotten criticism about the corporate tax breaks and the like.” But, he adds, “This is too big of a deal, too many jobs, too great of a company for us not to go after it.”

Amazon estimates it will employ 50,000 people at HQ2, with an average salary of $100,000.

Bumb believes, in the end, that will be the driving factor.

“They need to be comfortable that this region and this city can deliver the level of talent and workforce that will be necessary to driver their company into the future.”

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