Talk About "Prime" Real Estate!

11/9/2017

Former President Jimmy Carter once called our tax code "a disgrace to the human race," and there's really not a lot to like about it. There's at least some consolation, though, in the fact that we're all stuck with the same maddening rules. If you and your spouse file jointly, and your ordinary taxable income is $100,000, you'll pay the same amount as any other joint filers reporting the same $100,000 in ordinary taxable income.  

That's not always the case with state and local taxes, though. If you're big enough, and you're willing to flex a little muscle, you can find someplace willing to court you like royalty. Most cities are more than happy to trade away a bit of property tax on a corporate headquarters in exchange for the payroll taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes they can levy on the people who work there, along with the economic development that comes with new jobs. Other places are willing to offer incentives in the form of tax credits.  

And that brings us to this week's story . . . Amazon.com started life in 1994 as an online bookseller. Since then, though, it's grown to become the largest online retailer in the world. For four glorious hours this July 29, founder Jeff Bezos was the richest man on the planet. (The company reported disappointing earnings at the end of that day's trading, and Bezos's stock tanked $6 billion overnight. Must have been nice while it lasted!) If you're reading these words, you've bought something from Amazon, and you're probably one of its 80+ million Prime members.  

In September, Amazon announced plans to drop $5 billion on a second headquarters equal to their current home in Seattle, code-named HQ2. They want to locate the new facility in a metropolitan area of at least a million people, within 45 minutes of an international airport, with a highly educated workforce.  

The lucky winner will get up to 8 million square feet of new space and up to 50,000 new jobs paying an average of $100,000 per year. But the benefit of the new headquarters will ripple throughout the winning town's economy. Those 50,000 employees will all need places to live — pushing property values up an estimated 2%. They'll need places to eat, drink, and shop. Amazon reports that every dollar they currently invest in their current headquarters generates $1.40 for Seattle's economy overall.  

Naturally, every city in America wants in. By October 18, 238 municipalities had submitted their bids, from 54 states, provinces, districts, and territories across North America. Seriously, winning HQ2 is the closest thing any city will ever come to winning the Powerball.  

New Jersey has offered $7 billion in tax rebates if Amazon picks Newark. Pennsylvania has offered up to $1 billion in breaks, with Philadelphia throwing in $2 billion more over the next 10 years. Several cities went even further to stand out from the crowd. Tucson, AZ sent a 21-foot-tall cactus. The Mayor of Charlotte, NC declared October 18 to be "#CLTisPrimeDay." And the town of Stonecrest Georgia offered to rename itself Amazon.