Tampa Bay leaders would love to land Apple’s next campus, but Apple isn’t making it easy

Tampa Bay area economic development officials would be interested in putting in a proposal for Apple's planned second corporate campus - if the maker of the iPhone would ever say what it's looking for. Instead, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said a lot of the site selection work has already taken place under the radar. That's in contrast to the open and somewhat fevered bidding process that Amazon staged last year. "We've narrowed the list a lot," Cook told ABC News last month. "We wanted to narrow it to prevent this auction kind of process that we'd like to stay out of." Associated Press photo by Eric Risberg (2012)
Tampa Bay area economic development officials would be interested in putting in a proposal for Apple's planned second corporate campus - if the maker of the iPhone would ever say what it's looking for. Instead, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said a lot of the site selection work has already taken place under the radar. That's in contrast to the open and somewhat fevered bidding process that Amazon staged last year. "We've narrowed the list a lot," Cook told ABC News last month. "We wanted to narrow it to prevent this auction kind of process that we'd like to stay out of." Associated Press photo by Eric Risberg (2012)
Published March 2

For the Tampa Bay area’s economic development team, going after Amazon’s second headquarters was like running a hard race uphill against fast competition.

In contrast, going after Apple would be less like a race and more like, what, a puzzle? A treasure hunt?

Whatever it is, it involves a blindfold.

Of course local officials would love to pitch the region’s benefits to Apple. But at the moment there’s no organized pursuit of Apple’s planned campus the way there was for Amazon’s HQ2 project.

That’s because the maker of the iPhone, the world’s biggest company by market value, has yet to say what it’s looking for — how much property it needs, for example, or what kind of or how many employees it’s seeking.

"We are certainly prepared," said Craig Richard, president and CEO of the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. "Right now no one knows what this project is, except for Apple. There hasn’t been a process outlined like Amazon, and honestly, I don’t expect it to be that way."

In mid-January, Apple announced plans to build a second corporate campus somewhere in the U.S. and hire 20,000 workers over the next five years.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Apple to build second campus in $350 billion pledge

The expansion is possible partly because the tax law passed in December enables Apple, which generates two-thirds of its revenues overseas, to bring about $250 billion in foreign earnings back into the United States at a reduced tax rate. (That said, the company will still pay a tax bill estimated at $38 billion — believed to be the biggest such payment of its kind — on that money.)

The tax windfall is expected to help finance a new U.S. campus that would:

• Be announced later this year.

• Initially house technical support for customers.

• Be powered entirely by renewable energy sources like solar or wind power.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told ABC News the campus would not be in California, where the company spent $5 billion building a circular headquarters nicknamed the "spaceship," or in Texas, where it has significant operations.

Nor, he said, will the decision involve the kind of open-bid free-for-all that prompted 238 communities from across North America to offer Amazon tax breaks, cash grants, free land, housing subsidies for employees and more.

To the contrary, the company has done a lot of the site selection work quietly.

"We’ve narrowed the list a lot," Cook said. "We wanted to narrow it to prevent this auction kind of process that we’d like to stay out of."

BACKGROUND: Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

In addition to the second campus, Apple also has sketched out plans to spend more than $10 billion on new data centers across the United States. The company has spent billions creating data centers or co-located operations in seven states, including North Carolina, over the past decades.

If the company is looking to create a headquarters that houses everything except its top officers, Richard said Tampa already has proven to be a successful landing spot for corporations like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, USAA, MetLife and Bristol-Myers Squibb. The city was even a finalist for the relocation of Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. headquarters.

"We have all of their operations: legal, accounting, real estate, HR, everything but the C-suite," he said. "We have a strong track record in the event that Apple follows a similar model… Once they disclose what they’re looking for, we would love to be part of that process."

The Amazon project led Pinellas and Hillsborough to submit a joint regional bid that was a first for the bay area.

It should not be the last, say local officials and business boosters.

"Our competition for HQ2 was a win for the region," St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Anne Drake McMullen said. "We need to pull together and look to see where were our weaknesses in that application, shore those up and continue to make these applications together as a region. We’re stronger together."

Improving regional transportation is an obvious need, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, but there’s another priority that should be addressed if the bay area intends to go after companies that have a "need to get to all corners of the world."

"For a big multinational company like that, for us to be competitive, we’ve got to add more international flights," Buckhorn said. "We’ve come light years at Tampa International Airport already… but obviously there’s work to be done if we’re going to really be a global city."

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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