October 11, 2017

Why Georgia Has No Shot at Amazon and Its 50,000 Jobs

Georgia Report

Photo Credit: Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr

One of the iconic spheres under construction at Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

The business and political communities are all a-buzz at the news that Amazon, the Seattle-based retailing giant, is looking for a location to open a second headquarters.

Amazon allegedly will spend $5 billion on a new headquarters that would employ 50,000 people.  I suspect that both of those numbers are a little inflated, but there’s a reason for that: CEO Jeff Bezos would like to see a bidding war by states offering tax breaks and other financial goodies.

When the news first leaked that Amazon was looking for a new location, Gov. Nathan Deal said,  “We’re going to make a big push to try to get this” Here’s a quick and handy translation of that statement: “We’re going to open the doors to the state treasury and let Jeff Bezos drive off with as much money as he wants.” Georgia is reportedly going to offer Amazon a financial package worth as much as $1 billion to relocate here. That’s chump change, however, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has pledged to offer tax breaks worth $5 billion.

There are several things that Georgia and metro Atlanta have going for them when it comes to wooing a corporate giant like Amazon. One is the location of the world’s busiest airport. Another is the highly regarded universities like Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and UGA that provide the brainpower a corporate giant would covet.

There are some other factors that might not work so well for Georgia, however, It is reported that Amazon may look favorably on Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver because of the uncertainty surrounding the immigration issue in this country. A company that hires a large number of tech employees will look overseas for much of that talent, so it would want to avoid the hassles surrounding the issuance of visas.

Georgia is a big loser here, because we are a state whose political leadership displays animosity towards immigrants at every opportunity. In Deal’s first year as governor, he trumpeted his signing of a comprehensive bill that cracked down on Georgia’s immigrant communities and workers. In nearly every session of the legislature since, conservative lawmakers have continued to introduce bills that are intended to punish or humiliate immigrants even more. That’s not going to look very good to the corporate bigwigs at a company that recruits a large number of international employees.

Actually, Georgia’s chances of landing a corporate giant like Amazon may already have been killed by a piece of paper that four candidates for governor signed in early August. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and his three major rivals in the Republican primary put their signatures on a pledge that they would enact a "religious liberty" measure if one of them was elected governor in 2018. Cagle, who is considered to be the frontrunner in the GOP race, initially held off from signing that pledge, while Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former legislator Hunter Hill, and state Sen. Michael Williams rushed to sign it. But in the end, Cagle signed it too.

That is a big deal, because large corporations like Amazon do not like to become ensnarled in religious freedom battles. When these companies recruit employees, they don’t limit themselves to heterosexual white Christians. They look for talent regardless of whether the person might be black, Latino, female or a member of the LGBT community. They don’t want those employees to be harassed by local governments enforcing a religious freedom law.

You would think Amazon would want to avoid a place like Georgia, where immigrants are bashed and the next governor could well be someone who pushes for a religious freedom law. If the state should lose out on that headquarters, it could very well be because of the pledge signed in August by Cagle, Kemp, Hill and Williams.