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Pittsburgh works on bid to land 2nd Amazon HQ

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, 11:42 a.m.
Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016.
REUTERS
Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016.
Tin Franovic, software engineer at Amazon works at Amazon's South Side Works office when the tech giant officially opened its first corporate office in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Tin Franovic, software engineer at Amazon works at Amazon's South Side Works office when the tech giant officially opened its first corporate office in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2016.
In this April 27, 2017 file photo, construction continues on three large, glass-covered domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon said Thursday, Sept. 7, that it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees.
In this April 27, 2017 file photo, construction continues on three large, glass-covered domes as part of an expansion of the Amazon.com campus in downtown Seattle. Amazon said Thursday, Sept. 7, that it will spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees.

Pittsburgh will bid for Amazon's second headquarters.

Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted that he is "On it," hours after the Seattle-based giant announced it was looking for a second home.

Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff and chief operating officer, said the city would absolutely apply.

"We have been working all morning on plans," he said.

The Mayor's Office later said it has strategy sessions planned for Friday and early next week. The city has been working with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the county Economic Development Department and the city's corporate, university and foundation communities on a plan.

"With an unmatched portfolio of technological talent and intriguing development parcels, Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned to submit a winning bid for Amazon's facility. This is a transformational opportunity unlike any that we've ever seen," Peduto said in a statement.

Fitzgerald said local leaders started talking and meeting about luring Amazon to Pittsburgh soon after the news broke.

"This is right in our sweet spot," Fitzgerald said.

Amazon announced Thursday it plans to invest $5 billion in the construction and operation of Amazon HQ2. The second headquarters could bring as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs and tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions in additional invest in the surrounding community.

MORE: Prime real estate: Amazon opens search for 2nd HQ

GeekWire, a website devoted to covering technology and business in Seattle, put Pittsburgh on its shortlist of cities Amazon should consider . The site noted Carnegie Mellon University and the presence of Apple, Facebook and Uber in Pittsburgh. Also on GeekWire's list are Boston, Austin, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta. GeekWire notes that Pittsburgh would have to "work hard" to land Amazon.

"Perhaps dangling massive incentives and attractive real estate options in front of the company," GeekWire wrote.

Fitzgerald said he's already heard from the Gov. Tom Wolf's office regarding potential incentives. With 50,000 jobs and billions in investment at stake, Fitzgerald said the city, county and state is "certainly willing to put economic development incentives together."

"It could be land or workforce training," Fitzgerald said. "It's not just straight out cash or monetary incentives."

Amazon was quite clear in its announcement and request for proposals that it is looking for incentives, listing them as one of eight " Key Preferences and Decision Drivers " in its RFP. The company also describes ideal sites, transportation needs and quality of life considerations to attract talent.

Fitzgerald said Pittsburgh has many things that put it in a good position to win the headquarters. Pittsburgh is affordable, offers a good quality, is progressive and welcoming, Fitzgerald said. His sense is that Amazon is looking for a base of operations on the eastern side of the country to complement its Seattle home. Pittsburgh is a tech-savvy city with expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics that has already drawn Amazon here. The company opened an office on the South Side in January and recruited experts in machine translation from Carnegie Mellon University to run it. Amazon has also partnered with Findlay-based Seegrid for self-driving vehicles inside its distribution centers.

"Should Amazon pick Pittsburgh as its second home, our city would be further established as one of the greatest tech hubs in America, continuing to drive innovation and attract top talent to our city," said Seegrid CEO Jim Rock.

And space is abundant. Amazon could locate in the city at sites like the Almono development in Hazelwood, the 28-acres of the former Civic Arena or in spaces in the Strip District or Lawrenceville. As Amazon expands, it can take space near Pittsburgh International Airport, near the Turnpike north of city or along I-79 south of city.

"Do they want to be near rail, a river, an interstate, a university, an airport?" Fitzgerald said. "Our job is to give them what they want to be able to succeed."

The Mayor's Office said that no land, incentives or other details of Pittsburgh's bid had been identified.

Philadelphia is also working on a bid, with Mayor Jim Kenney tweeting the city would be a prime location for Amazon. Fitzgerald said he expects every major city in the country to show interest.

Senator Bob Casey chimed in on Pittsburgh's behalf. In a letter to the company, Casey said "Not only does Pennsylvania have incredible academic institutions and a world-renowned workforce, it is home to key interstate commerce thoroughfares, critical supply chain infrastructure, a stable business-friendly environment, and most importantly an existing relationship and significant Amazon presence."

Bopaya Bidanda, the Ernest Roth Professor & Department Chair in University of Pittsburgh's Department of Industrial Engineering, said Pittsburgh would be a great fit for Amazon. He said Pittsburgh's infrastructure makes it easy to move goods and people in and out of the city and its location puts half the country's population within 500 miles.

"That's all within a day's drive," Bidanda said.

Pittsburgh cheap housing is also a plus, Bidanda said. He said Pittsburgh real estate prices are still a fourth or fifth of Bay Area and Silicon Valley prices and the city could probably welcome four or five major companies before it would reach those levels.

Bidanda acknowledge Pittsburgh does face some challenges. He wishes the city's labor force was viewed as more progressive and the airport lacks flights. That could be a chicken or the egg problem, Bidanda said. Bring in Amazon and the progressive workforce follows. Bring Amazon to Pittsburgh and a direct flight to Seattle follows.

Twitter piled on the love for Pittsburgh as a perfect fit for Amazon's new home.

Amazon expects to make a decision next year and start construction in 2019.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed. Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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