Amazon HQ2 in MKE? It’s worth a shot


Seattle-based Amazon created a lot of excitement when it said it planned to build a second North American corporate headquarters, with 50,000 employees, and invited cities to submit proposals.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, co-chairs of Milwaukee 7, recently announced M7 submitted a proposal to Amazon.

We are competing with almost every major metro area in the United States for Amazon’s “HQ2.” Does anyone think Milwaukee has a chance to win?

Honestly? No. There are several regions with stronger economies, better transportation systems, bigger talent pools and warmer weather for Amazon to pick from.

However, many doubted Wisconsin could land Foxconn Technology Group’s massive LCD screen plant, which it now plans to build in Racine County. When rumors were first circulating that Foxconn was considering Wisconsin, I called a prominent industrial real estate broker who was skeptical because Wisconsin never wins multi-state competitions for huge economic development deals.

But Wisconsin did win that competition, as the state agreed to provide $3 billion in incentives and Mount Pleasant and Racine County are working on a $764 million local incentive package. Foxconn was also attracted to our area because of the access to Lake Michigan water and an ample supply of available land between two major population centers, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Local officials are also playing up our proximity to Chicago, and Madison, in the bid for Amazon. Chicago and Madison have a talent base that could help fill jobs. Area business travelers can use O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, in addition to Mitchell International in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee offers access to Chicago’s assets without the downside of doing business in Illinois, which has higher taxes and major financial problems, Barrett says.

It’s good to see area leaders thinking about how to take advantage of the region’s proximity to Chicago. We need to think of ourselves as part of the Chicago mega-region, especially as Foxconn and other development occurs along I-94, filling in the gap between Milwaukee and the Windy City.

If, somehow, Milwaukee got Amazon’s HQ2, it would be transformational. The city would become a Midwestern Seattle, which is booming. The 50,000 high-paying Amazon jobs would dwarf the 13,000 Foxconn jobs.

The bidding for Amazon HQ2 is intense. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a state and local incentive package worth $7 billion if Amazon picks Newark. After approving a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn, what could Wisconsin afford to do for Amazon? What’s it going to take to win?

The Milwaukee area’s chances to land the Amazon HQ2 indeed may be very slim. But area officials wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least give it a shot. Throw the Hail Mary pass and see what happens.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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