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HQ2 watch: As deadline looms for Amazon headquarters pitch, one metro bows out

By Robert Trigaux
Cities across the country are trying to land Amazon's second headquarters, known as HQ2. In Birmingham, Ala., giant Amazon boxes were constructed and placed around the city as part of its "Bring A to B" campaign. [Ali Clark/Bring A to B Campaign]

If there’s one national business saga to keep up on these days, it’s the frenzy by metropolitan areas — including Tampa Bay — to make their best pitches to Amazon in the hope of being chosen as the new location for the giant online retailer’s second massive headquarters. HQ2, as it is called, would create upwards of 50,000 high-paying jobs and billions of dollars of new investment in whichever city it locates in.

Tampa Bay’s economic development leaders on Friday completed their regional proposal and shipped it to Enterprise Florida. The state’s job recruiting agency and partner with several Florida metro areas pitching themselves to Amazon will, in turn, send the various metro proposals to Amazon this week. The official deadline is Thursday. Amazon says it will make its final decision in 2018.

RELATED COVERAGE: Promise our firstborns? Metros go wild in pursuit of Amazon HQ2.

Even if Tampa Bay does not win, economic development officials say it’s important to try. Beside, the experience they got in pulling this proposal together, while exhausting, may serve them well in the future. The proposal, they say, is rich with video testimonials by business and community leaders touting the qualities of this metro area.

In the meantime, the competition to woo Amazon remains intense and is always changing. Here are three things to watch right now to keep up with who’s up, down — or out of the running.

• Everybody wants to handicap which metro area is most likely to be picked by Amazon. Well respected Moody’s Analytics recently weighed in with a list of its own, naming Austin, Texas, as the most qualified place for HQ2 to land. Who else looks promising to Moody’s gurus? No. 2 is Atlanta, followed by Philadelphia, Rochester (N.Y.), Pittsburgh, New York City and Miami.

Sorry, Tampa Bay’s not in the top 10.

• Just as cities as modest as Gary, Indiana, and Maumee, Ohio, are throwing their hats into the ring to pursue the Amazon HQ2 prize, one site is already calling it quits. San Antonio — part of the initial Texas pitch to Amazon to choose it or Austin or Dallas or Houston — is bowing out. "Blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style," San Antonio area leaders wrote in a joint letter last week to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "It’s hard to imagine that a forward-thinking company like Amazon hasn’t already selected its preferred location," they wrote. "And if that’s the case, then this public process is, intentionally or not, creating a bidding war amongst states and cities."

There’s probably a lot of quiet second-guessing like that under way among many secondary metro area leaders.

• If there’s one lesson to be learned the hard way for many metros that will fail to win HQ2. If your talent pool is not wide and deep — enough that it won’t be "overwhelmed" by Amazon’s hiring needs — then you’ve probably lost out already. Who has such bench strength? A Brookings analysis picked the biggest cities, from New York to Los Angeles and some mid-sized cities like Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Only one metro in the entire Southeast made this talent cut: Raleigh, N.C., best known for having the best educated population of any southeastern metro area.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.