Barrett touts Chicago, Madison proximity in region’s bid for Amazon HQ2

Formal proposal submitted today

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow discuss the region's effort to attract Amazon's second headquarters.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett touted the city’s proximity to Madison and Chicago while announcing this morning that the Milwaukee 7 regional economic development organization is submitting its formal proposal today to become home to Inc.’s second corporate headquarters.

Barrett, who was joined by M7 co-chair and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, didn’t disclose specific sites that are being pitched for the headquarters, citing competitive reasons. He said the proposal puts forth multiple sites that are located in the city, in Milwaukee County and within the seven-county region.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow discuss the region’s effort to attract Amazon’s second headquarters.

“We are a region, we are a city, that meets the requirements, almost to a T, as to what Amazon is looking for,” Barrett said. 

The company began a nationwide competition in September for its new $5 billion headquarters, which will be comparable to its existing headquarters in Seattle. The new site would have as many as 50,000 full-time employees.

Farrow said M7 can compete with “any region in the entire country” for the project, citing its ability to attract major businesses, including Foxconn Technology Group and Haribo of America Inc. 

“In the last five to seven years, we’ve created an atmosphere for businesses to understand they can work here and they can grow here. They can put their roots into this city and this region, this area,” Farrow said.

Barrett and Farrow also touted area universities’ ability to train workers and the region’s work ethic.

“We’re not flashy,” Farrow said. “We’re good old-fashioned Midwest values.”

Barrett said another regional asset is that Amazon already has a presence in southeastern Wisconsin with its 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center and 500,000-square-foot distribution center in Kenosha.  

With Foxconn expected to create as many as 13,000 jobs, however, the region’s bid for another massive business has raised questions about its ability to fill the available positions. Barrett said he’s confident the region could do it. 

“The Madison-Chicago-Milwaukee triangle is a powerful, powerful triangle,” he said. “We are at the point in the triangle where we are large enough, we have enough of the amenities, we are close enough to attract talent from both of those regions.”

While Chicago is also competing to win the headquarters, Barrett said Milwaukee has “everything that Chicago has without the downside” of the city, which, he said, is a costlier place to do business. 

Barrett said the formal proposal doesn’t include a specific dollar amount related to tax incentives but that it included general information about the region’s ability to provide such incentives. Last month, the state Legislature approved a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn to build its LCD plant in Wisconsin.

While several cities have gone to notable lengths to attract Amazon’s attention — such as Tucson, Arizona’s efforts to send a 21-foot cactus to the company’s headquarters — Barrett said he intentionally opted against gimmicks.

“As I went through the criteria that Amazon was laying out, I was able to say over and over and over again, ‘check, check, check, we meet those requirements,’” Barrett said. “So maybe I should apologize that I’m not dressed up as a giant piece of cheese, but I don’t. I don’t apologize for that because I think this is a serious competition. And I think they’re not looking for gimmicks.”

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