News doesn’t get much more anticlimactic than last week’s announcement by Amazon that it settled on 20 finalists for a shot at hosting a second corporate headquarters, and no Washington cities made the cut.
Economic leaders around Washington, including Tacoma-Pierce County, submitted formal pitches to the Seattle-based company last fall, publicly saying all the right things about how they had a sporting chance. There’s no harm in exuding an air of confidence when a $5 billion corporate campus and 50,000 jobs are at stake.
But the smart money was always on the tech giant building its HQ2 in the Midwest or on the East Coast, logistically positioned to ship merchandise to all corners of its North American empire.
Washington surely would have no hard feelings if Amazon were to pass us over this time, and politicians would certainly refrain from posturing. Right?
It seems that Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler didn’t get the memo. He issued a statement last Thursday after Amazon’s short-list announcement in which he clumsily and implicitly blamed Democrats.
“The fact that Amazon’s finalists for HQ2 only include one West Coast city and none from Washington should be a wake-up call to policymakers – make it easier to do business in Washington or lose out on billions in economic growth,” the Ritzville lawmaker said.
Schoesler characterized the news as “not just unfortunate” but also “tragic.”
We understand why the former Senate Majority Coalition leader would resort to hyperbolic sound bites to try scoring points; his clout is reduced in the 2018 Legislature with Democrats now controlling the chamber by one vote.
His comments also come with an important geographical subtext: There’s a stark difference in economic growth between the east and west sides of the Cascades. A new analysis by the Washington Roundtable shows that 71 percent of new jobs between 2011 and 2015 were created in the North I-5 corridor, compared to just 9 percent in Eastern and North Central Washington.
Schoesler’s district touches on Spokane County, where officials submitted the longest of longshot bids for Amazon’s golden ticket.
Westside Democrats now driving the agenda in Olympia mustn’t lose sight of the need for economic development and tax policy that serves both sides of the state.
But they also must resist giving away huge corporate recruitment incentives they’ll regret in years to come.
Likewise, they must stay true to a sensible tax regime that doesn’t blink in the face of powerful and vocal anti-tax interests. Case-in-point: last year’s Legislature closed a loophole that allowed sellers of online products to avoid charging sales taxes to in-state buyers. Washington was the first state to take this step and, as of Jan. 1, Amazon started collecting sales tax on behalf of third-party merchants who sell on its platform.
Do companies consider onerous policies like this while weighing expansion plans? Perhaps. Regardless, closing a gap in our state tax system that punished brick-and-mortar retailers was the right thing to do.
Anyone paying attention sensed long ago that for various reasons, Amazon would choose an HQ2 site east of the 100th Meridian. In October, a company executive let slip during a tech summit: “Not everybody wants to live in the Northwest … I think we may find another location allows us to recruit a different collection of employees.”
In the end, while Amazon’s headquarters derby didn’t go our way, it mobilized communities like Tacoma to take honest stock of their economic development assets, forge partnerships and focus on trolling for fishes instead of a whale.
Public officials, from Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, view the pursuit as worthwhile because it helped them build a case for future efforts.
We see nothing “unfortunate” or “tragic” about that.