AURORA, TOO! Denver economic development officials say Denver ‘region’ make the Amazon HQ2 cut

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AURORA | The dream or nightmare of Aurora or Denver as the new Amazon HQ2 stayed alive today when officials released a list of 20 finalist locations, keeping Aurora on the map.

Mayor Steve Hogan said he talked with Denver economic development officials who told him it was the Denver region that made the Amazon finalist list, including Aurora. Hogan said J.J. Amend from the Metro Denver Economic Development corporation said it was the combined application that has gotten the Amazon OK so far.

Whether Aurora, Denver or any of the local applicants have Amazon’s attention won’t be clear for some time, said Aurora Economic Development Council President and CEO Wendy Mitchell.

Hogan said he thinks that until the list of finalists is whittled down to eight or so, there won’t be a lot of details available from Amazon.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office said they had no details about the short list.

Amazon narrowed the list of cities for second HQ to 20: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County, MD, Nashville, Newark, NYC, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto, Washington.

There’s no doubt Aurora officials want a shot at the massive project. Twice in the past few years, when Amazon looked to set up shop in Colorado, the mega retailer opted for an Aurora address.

As the online-shopping behemoth shops around for perhaps its biggest move yet — a second headquarters to ease the growing pains at their Seattle headquarters — Aurora leaders are hoping that past success will have Amazon eyeballing Aurora, again.

“They know that we have a track record to get things done in the time frame they want, in a business friendly environment,” Mitchell said in a statement last year after the race to snag the Amazon facility began. “It’s all about trust and results.”

The company said last year it would spend more than $5 billion to build another headquarters in North America to house as many as 50,000 employees. It plans to also stay in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, with the new space “a full equal” to that, said founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Already, Amazon has chosen Aurora for two locations: a 452,000-square-foot “sortation facility” at 19799 East 36th Drive in Majestic Commercenter that opened last year, and a 1-million square foot fulfillment center that opened this year

Amazon’s announcement highlights how fast the e-commerce giant is expanding, and its need to find fresh talent to fuel that growth. With the lure of so many new jobs, city and state leaders lined up to apply. Among them: Chicago,

Amazon wants to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade. That’s about the same size as its current home in Seattle, which has 33 buildings, 23 restaurants and houses 40,000 employees.

“They’re so big in Seattle, they’re running out of room,” said Kevin Sharer, a corporate strategy professor at Harvard Business School.

Mitchell said last  year Aurora checks off all the boxes for Amazon, including having ample land ready to develop and a well-educated workforce.

“Our central location between the Tech Center, Denver International Airport, and Downtown Denver and access to all major highway corridors means that we can draw talent from across the metro area to fill the tens of thousands of jobs Amazon will create,” she said.

Amazon said it will hire up to 50,000 new full-time employees at the second headquarters over the next 15 years, and they would make an average pay of more than $100,000 a year.

The company is hoping for something else from its second hometown: tax breaks, grants and other incentives. A section of the proposal that outlines those says “the initial cost and the ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers.”

AEDC has negotiated some massive tax breaks to lure big-name companies before, namely roughly $300 million in tax breaks for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center.

“We get creative when it comes to economic development deals, and that’s one of the things we’re known for excelling at,” Mitchell said.

Amazon gets tax breaks when cities compete for its massive warehouses, where it packs and ships orders. The company received at least $241 million in subsidies from local and state government after opening facilities in 29 different U.S. cities in 2015 and 2016, according to an analysis by Good Jobs First, a group that tracks economic development deals.

In explaining why it was holding a public process, Amazon said on its site that it wanted “to find a city that is excited to work with us and where our customers, employees, and the community can all benefit.”