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Amazon Courtship Continues - Behind Closed Doors

South Florida Business Leaders Say They’re Sworn to Secrecy
March 1, 2018
Economic development leaders Michael Finney, Kelly Smallridge and Bob Swindell (pictured, left to right) addressed Amazon and other issues during an NAIOP forum Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.
Credit: NAIOP South Florida.

Economic development officials in South Florida keep getting asked about Amazon, and they keep having to politely plead the Fifth.

An NAIOP forum on Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, FL brought together Kelly Smallridge, Michael Finney and Bob Swindell, the three business leaders who worked together on behalf of their organizations to make a regional bid for Amazon's massive second headquarters. The online retailing giant selected South Florida as one of 20 finalists in January.

Finney, head of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, told more than 100 commercial real estate professionals that he and his partners are providing additional information to Amazon. But that's the extent of what Finney, Smallridge and Swindell are willing to reveal after Amazon insisted that officials in all the finalist communities sign non-disclosure agreements to keep the process confidential.

The three South Florida business leaders wouldn't even say whether Amazon has scheduled a site visit, though that's widely expected to happen at some point.

 Read More CoStar Amazon HQ2 Coverage 

The Amazon headquarters, HQ2, will bring 50,000 jobs to the selected region. The company has said it needs 8 million square feet on 100 acres and will invest $5 billion in the winning community.

Even without a non-disclosure agreement, the process of courting a company has to remain under wraps for competitive reasons, said Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

"It's because we don't want the next county or region or state over to have a leg up on us," she said. "The protection we are giving to Amazon is no different than the protection we'd be giving to a company bringing a project 1/8th the size to our area."

Before Amazon insisted on the non-disclosure agreements, South Florida leaders said the region's bid included five sites in Miami-Dade County, two in Broward and one in Palm Beach. One of the sites in Miami-Dade is believed to be land at the Miami Worldcenter development downtown.

Finney said the biggest challenge in landing Amazon would be accommodating 50,000 new employees in the region. But he insisted it's doable.

"We're definitely ready to absorb this project," he said.

Local officials have not disclosed economic incentives offered to Amazon. During Thursday's forum, Finney, Smallridge and Swindell said incentives are a small part of the package in attracting any company to the area.

They said a company has to be sold on the region's talent pool and other amenities. Smallridge said she's immediately skeptical of a potential employer that asks first about possible incentives.

Meanwhile, Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, called on Florida lawmakers to increase funding to market the state from a business perspective.

Lawmakers earmarked $20 million in recent years, but that was cut to $7 million last year, he said, adding that other states are spending far more on marketing to new businesses.

"We’ve got to build our brand," Swindell added. "Some people still think we’re only about great beaches and amusement parks."

Paul Owers, South Florida Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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