Amazon made a big splash when it announced it is looking for a home for its second headquarters and subsequently placed Austin on its short list with 19 other cities. But beyond those big, public proclamations, not much is known about what the company will do next.
One could chalk that lack of transparency up to the company’s imposed rules, but one could also chalk that up to the way things are usually done. Corporate relocations are not typically done by public auction. However, once the company has picked a site – say Austin, hypothetically – that’s when the curtain will get pulled back.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce is the agency that helps recruit businesses to Austin. For example, it recently helped pharmaceutical giant Merck bring an IT hub here. Charisse Bodisch, a vice president of economic development with the chamber, says Amazon would be no different.
“We kind of serve as that central point of contact,” said Bodisch. “It helps streamline it for the companies and the consultants, where they’re not getting bombarded by maybe 20 people reaching out to them. They can work through one single point and still have that relationship with those communities.”
The chamber serves as a central contact for the regional governments, as well.
“We do work with the five-county region,” she said. “It’s not just about one city. It’s about 15 or so cities. So, we go out and we recruit companies that fit best with our ecosystem here in the region.”
Those five counties the Austin Chamber serves are Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell and Bastrop. So, if the Austin area were to win the Amazon site, it may not necessarily be within the city limits.
“That’s where that conversation on incentives starts going,” said Bodisch. “It’s with that community, or that county, or that school district. And while we may facilitate introductions – and we may be with that company giving them guidance, ‘Hey, this is what’s going to happen, this is the next step you can anticipate,’ – it’s really up to that community to then get that project over the finish line.”
In Austin, that is when the process becomes public. The City Council would then discuss the company proposal and any economic incentives. A local agreement must be in place before state incentives from the Texas Enterprise Fund come into play.
“Keep in mind, the vast majority of companies that come here, they don’t go through an incentive process,” said Bodisch.
She says only about three percent of companies that have moved to Austin have received incentives since 2004.