The Newnan Times-Herald


Georgia competitive for Amazon – and others

  • By Clay Neely
  • |
  • Sep. 15, 2017 - 6:51 PM

Amazon, the online bookseller turned corporate behemoth, announced it is seeking a site for a second headquarters. At stake is a prize that will include up to 50,000 high-wage jobs, $5 billion in corporate investment, and up to 8 million square feet of office space over the next decade.

Amazon has indicated what it wants from a host. It should be a metropolitan area containing at least 1 million people. It must have a “stable and business-friendly” environment. The area must provide “the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent.” Access to an international airport is a must.

CNBC’s John W. Shoen ranked potential metropolitan areas based on Amazon’s priorities. The top five, in order, were New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston.

Competitiveness with respect to tax structure and business environment were not included in Schoen’s rankings. It’s difficult to see how New York City or Chicago meet the criteria for a stable or business-friendly environment. From a cost of living standpoint alone, it’s difficult to see Amazon attempting to add 50,000 jobs in the San Francisco area that stubbornly refuses to address the need for workforce housing.

Looking through Schoen’s rankings, an off-the-cuff list of Atlanta’s competitors when adjusting for areas that would be called business friendly would include metro Washington DC (ranked by Schoen as 6th), Dallas (8th), Miami (9th), Denver (11th), Raleigh (12th), Houston (14th), and Orlando (16th). For those that believe we must eliminate our income tax to remain competitive “like Tennessee,” I would point them to Schoen’s ranking of Nashville, which he lists at 30th.

The point here isn’t to say that taxation isn’t important, but to reemphasize where and why it is important. Every state must decide how much to tax, and what services to provide for those taxes. Georgia offers the world standard in logistics networks and quality schools and universities for the tax dollars we extract. The measure of competitiveness is not from a singular tax rate, but of relative value per dollar spent.

Were this just an objective contest, it’s arguable that a location in metro Atlanta would be awarded Amazon’s new HQ without much of a contest. And yet, multiple states will make their own position prettier by offering lucrative incentives. Georgia will put its best foot forward and do the same. When the winner is announced, some will argue that Georgia offered too much. If Georgia isn’t the ultimate victor, others will argue that we didn’t offer enough.

In the end, this isn’t really about Amazon. They are certainly a worthy company that would fit well with other HQ’s of Home Depot, Coca Cola, UPS, Delta, Chick-Fil-A, and the many other recognizable brands that call Atlanta home.

The ultimate measure of competitiveness is how Georgia is attracting and retaining the employers that don’t make headlines because of their scale. Last year, metro Atlanta led the country for the highest rate of job growth, with more than 85,000 new jobs created.

That’s a sign that we’re already winning the competitiveness battle - All day, every day.

Charlie Harper, a Fayette County native, is the publisher of and the executive director of PolicyBEST, an Atlanta-based pro-business advocacy group.