Metro-East News

Amazon forces Illinois, Missouri to work together to attract new headquarters

There are only three weeks to go for cities vying for Amazon’s second headquarters to put forward their proposals.

More than 100 locations have expressed their intentions of landing the online juggernaut, which would create about 50,000 jobs, but the official Request for Proposals instructs municipalities to work together and submit one proposal for their entire metropolitan statistical area, which, for the St. Louis region, consists of counties from Missouri and Illinois.

“We’re taking a reasonable approach,” said James Arnold, who works in the economic development department for Madison County.

Instead of a top-down plan from the county, the municipalities have taken the reins and approached Arnold about where they’d like to see the new headquarters go, he said. Pontoon Beach and Edwardsville outlined two locations, and Collinsville submitted two possible sites.

Each location meets many of Amazon’s demands, Arnold said. They are near an interstate and are within 45 minutes of a major airport, and although they lack access to mass transit, Arnold isn’t worried.

“Madison County is going to jump (to build it),” he said, if the company picks the county.

Terry Beach, the director for economic development for St. Clair County, declined to comment on local efforts to woo the retailer.

Putting together a proposal for the bi-state region is “uniquely difficult,” Arnold said, but he was happy to find that St. Louis was interested in working with the metro-east. Because of the guidelines, if multiple proposals come in from a particular region, Amazon might throw all in the trash, he said.

Jim Alexander of the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce is assisting the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which is taking the lead for the region, in finding the best location.

“There’s a large team working together throughout the St. Louis region to put forward the most attractive and competitive proposal,” Alexander said.

With 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of investment over 15 years, the so-called HQ2 would dwarf the bi-state battle for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency that gripped the area in 2016. The NGA employs about 3,100 jobs, and the new campus was expected to cost $1.6 billion.

Both Alexander and Arnold said they thought that no matter where HQ2 landed in the St. Louis region, it would be a big impact for both sides of the Mississippi River.

“Anyway you look at it, it’s a win,” Arnold said.

If HQ2 came to the St. Louis region, employees would live across the bi-state region, but no matter which side gets the new headquarters, it may largely benefit that immediate location.

According to 2009 through 2013 commuting data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the six most populous geographies in the area are Madison and St. Clair Counties, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well as St. Charles and Jefferson counties in Missouri.

Of the 238,000 people from those areas who work in St. Louis, Madison County residents made up just 5.7 percent of the workforce there, and St. Clair County makes up 7.3 percent, for a total of 13 percent from the metro-east. If these figures held for a St. Louis-based HQ2, then the metro-east could expect to land about 6,500 of Amazon’s 50,000 new workers.

However, if the headquarters landed in St. Louis County, where the metro-east makes up 4.9 percent of the 533,000-person workforce, then only 2,450 highly-skilled workers might move here.

A list of 27 sites was released by St. Charles County on Thursday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They include locations near St. Louis University, St. Louis County, Fenton, Mo., O’Fallon, Mo., and O’Fallon, Ill. Possible locations also include an option combining downtown St. Louis and the East St. Louis riverfront.

“I personally believe that kind of approach is the best chance the region has,” St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern told the Post-Dispatch.

The complete list was not published, and efforts to obtain it from various sources were not immediately successful.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel