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Red River Valley to vie for Amazon headquarters, but North Dakota won’t

FARGO -- Never mind that Fargo-Moorhead has a population well short of 1 million. Admittedly, the metro area couldn’t immediately fill 50,000 open job positions. And coming up with 500,000 square feet of available space would be a challenge.

But, undaunted by those requirements, local economic development leaders are entering the sweepstakes to become Amazon’s second corporate headquarters city, commonly dubbed HQ2.

The Fargo-Moorhead proposal actually will be a Red River Valley proposal, a population area of 350,000 to 400,000, with Fargo-Moorhead metro comprising 230,000 of that total, said James Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

“We’ll try to tell the story,” he said.

That story includes an impressive technology presence, starting with the Microsoft campus in Fargo, available housing, plenty of space for office development and expertise in developing unmanned aerial systems, which Gartin believes will be of interest to Amazon, given the firm’s efforts to deliver packages using drones.

Although the odds are admittedly long, Gartin believes there’s nothing to lose from trying, and hopes that something will come from putting the Red River Valley forward.

Since Amazon recently announced it would open a second headquarters outside of its main one in Seattle, more than 100 cities and dozens of states have been sharpening their pencils to put forth an attractive proposal to the rapidly growing online retailer.

In checking with Amazon about its request for proposals, the response was encouraging, Gartin said. “They said go for it.”

Amazon is the ultimate “prize” for an area’s economic development boost. Amazon says it will invest $5 billion wherever it goes, adding 50,000 new jobs with an average annual salary exceeding $100,000.

Despite all this, representatives of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and the North Dakota Department of Commerce said they are not planning to apply, given the 1 million metro population minimum -- more than the state’s entire population, estimated at 790,701.

“The No. 1 criterion was it had to have a population of a million,” said John Schneider, director of economic development and finance for the Commerce Department. “If you didn’t have that, you would be disqualified immediately.”

Instead, North Dakota is focusing on expanding key sectors, including value-added agriculture, value-added energy, advanced manufacturing and technology, including unmanned aerial systems, he said.

“We try to be strategic,” Schneider said.

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, agreed that the population requirement makes North Dakota ineligible.

“The governor is obviously focused on growing the economy, and technology jobs are certainly part of that,” Nowatzki said.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the state should submit an application, but should not offer stratospheric incentives, since Minnesota is home to Target and Best Buy, Amazon competitors.

Other than the 1 million-person requirement, Amazon is looking for an environment that is business-friendly, close to major highways and an international airport, a place with good mass transit, strong internet services and top-notch higher education.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522


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