The greatest economic development sweepstakes in the country is underway and Montgomery County officials are hoping the county can be a player.
Amazon is searching for a second headquarters site to house as many as 50,000 employees, at an expected cost of $5 billion to construct. The footprint for the new headquarters would be up to 8 million square feet by 2027 and an initial 500,000 square feet by 2019.
To put that in perspective, Marriott is planning to build a new 825,000-square foot corporate headquarters in downtown Bethesda where about 3,500 employees will work by July 2022.
“Amazon is just an extraordinary opportunity for whatever community is able to land them,” Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said during his Monday press briefing. “My hope and my expectation based on my conversations with the executive branch and with our economic development corporation is that Montgomery County will play and will play hard."
Berliner pointed to a New York Times analysis that found that the Washington, D.C., area would be one of three likely locations for the internet giant, as well as Boston and Denver. (The Times found Denver to be the most qualified to meet the company’s requirements.)
Amazon is looking for a location within 30 minutes of a city and 45 minutes of an international airport, on-site access to mass transportation and not more than 1 to 2 miles from a major highway.
“It is certainly my expectation that Montgomery County will be one those entities that is saying, ‘Why not here?’” Berliner said. “We have transit. We have an urban vibe, we have culture, we have a high quality of life, we have education, we have the smartest workforce anywhere, and we are the most diverse community anywhere. I think Montgomery County should be on the top of the list of the places they should go.”
The company has said it’s considering metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people in North America that offer a similar layout to its Seattle campus, which mostly features closely clustered buildings in downtown Seattle. That campus has 8.1 million square feet of space, with 33 buildings and more than 40,000 employees.
The company also said it’s looking for an area with software development, legal, accounting and administrative workers.
Berliner declined to offer any specific sites in the county that could meet the company’s needs.
“I’ve had conversations with property owners,” Berliner said. “I’ve had conversations with our government officials—there are sites.”
Council member Nancy Floreen, who chairs the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, said county-owned land near the Shady Grove Metro station could be pitched, as well as land near the Federal Drug Administration site in White Oak, although that site isn’t connected to Metro.
“I think we meet a lot of their criteria,” Floreen said Tuesday. “I’m concerned about getting into some ginormous bidding war with the rest of country, but if the governor’s in the game, it’s certainly something we would be interested in. The question would be the land that would be appropriate for this.”
Gov. Larry Hogan said last week during a press conference to dedicate the Intercounty Connector that the state is interested in attracting Amazon. He noted the state has overnight trucking and rail routes that connect to one-third of the U.S. population.
“The sales pitch is Maryland is a great place to do business,” Hogan said. “We’re in the heart of the mid-Atlantic region, which is an excellent location.”
Montgomery County exited the competition for the 40- to 55-acre FBI headquarters in 2015 after county officials determined it didn’t have enough undeveloped land within 2.5 miles of a Metro station to accommodate the agency’s request.
Private sites in the county could include Lerner Enterprises’ White Flint Mall site on Rockville Pike, which is approximately 45 acres and within walking distance of the White Flint Metro station. Francine Waters, a spokeswoman for Lerner, declined to comment on whether the company was trying to work with the county to pitch the site to Amazon.
A more suburban location is the 204-acre Comsat campus in Clarksburg, which Lantian Development LLC purchased for $11.5 million in 2015. The site is next to Interstate 270, but it lacks access to mass transit.
Speculation has also circulated that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos would be interested in locating the company’s headquarters in the Washington area because he owns The Washington Post and this year bought a $23 million mansion in D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood.
Floreen pointed out Bezos’ connections to the region and said, “I think that bodes well for the Washington area.”
State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Kensington), who is running for governor, said in a press release Monday he would propose $1 billion in state funds over four years to bolster the University of Maryland to tailor its educational programs and campus to Amazon as a way to attract the company to Maryland.
It’s not clear yet how the county’s private Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) will make the pitch for the county. Amazon is requesting responses to its request for proposals by Oct. 19 and plans to select a final site sometime in 2018.
Van Eperen, a North Bethesda public relations firm, set up an interview for Bethesda Beat to talk with David Petr, the CEO of MCEDC, about the Amazon headquarters search. However, Van Eperen canceled the interview Tuesday shortly before the appointed time and said Petr was no longer available.
Petr did not respond to voice-mail messages on Tuesday or Wednesday to ask about Amazon.
Bob Buchanan, the president of MCEDC’s board of directors, said Tuesday that the county’s economic development corporation is trying to coordinate its efforts with the rest of the Washington region.
“This is a solicitation for proposals that specifically encourages a regional response,” Buchanan said. “It’s so big, no one jurisdiction can handle it on their own anyway. This isn’t business as usual. It requires us to step back and say: How can this region put on its best face and address the challenges in this proposal?”
Buchanan added that maybe Amazon will be the catalyst that leads to better cooperation among D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland, which have competed against each other in the past for new businesses and government buildings. He wondered if Hogan, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe would back a regional plan.
“We need to be thinking like we haven’t thought before,” Buchanan said.
Floreen, however, said that while it’s good for county residents to have more jobs in the region, “more jobs in Montgomery County is best of all.”
“Montgomery County is focused on Montgomery County to begin with,” Floreen said.