Milwaukee Joins Competition to Woo Amazon Headquarters

Oct 18, 2017

A number of cities are going all-out in efforts to lure Amazon. There’s a big prize at stake. The online retail giant is planning to build a second headquarters, which could create up to 50,000 jobs. Milwaukee and Waukesha are among the communities expressing interest – but in a far more low-key way.

Dozens of metropolitan regions are vying for Amazon's second corporate headquarters. To get the company's attention, some are going to great lengths. For instance, Arizona leaders shipped a 21-foot cactus to Amazon's CEO. And a Georgia community is offering to rename itself after the company.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says this region has a different style. “There were many cities that have treated this like the old TV show Let’s Make a Deal, where they would dress up as a cactus or they would walk around the site or they would play all kinds of games to get the attention of Amazon. We deliberately did not take that route."

Barrett says Milwaukee doesn't have to resort to gimmicks, because the bid for Amazon's second headquarters speaks for itself.

Southeastern Wisconsin has everything the company is seeking, he says. “We are a major metropolitan area with a population over a million people, we have access to an airport that serves all the communities that Amazon wants to serve, we have a steady climate here in terms of both business climate and government climate."

Many of the Amazon jobs would be in technical fields. Barrett insists the region has the workforce needed to fill the thousands of posts. That's despite the fact that the Amazon facility would be built at the same time Foxconn is gearing up for its huge LCD screen manufacturing plant in Racine County.

Barrett says Amazon's headquarters would likely draw employees from the Milwaukee area, Madison and Chicago -- all places with large student populations.

“Locally, is our strongest jewel with the universities and the colleges we have here that can produce the technical expertise that Amazon is looking for because at the end of the day, it’s all about workforce and Milwaukee fits the bill in terms of being able to meet the demand that is necessary for all these jobs,” he says.

Barrett says local governments would provide tax incentives to Amazon and that amount would be determined through negotiations.

The mayor and Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow are co-chairs of the regional development group the Milwaukee 7. Farrow says he thinks Amazon will appreciate the cooperative effort.

“Working together, this M7 region can compete with any region in the entire country and we’ve proven it, especially with Foxconn and we’re ready to do it again,” Farrow says.

Farrow says the bid identifies multiple sites that M7 leaders have suggested as good locations for Amazon, and he believes the company will be impressed by the area’s business growth rate. “You can hear the noise around us and it’s exciting. I hear pounding that’s going on, I see growth that’s going on, you see development that’s going on here. We see the same thing happening in Waukesha, when you go to Kenosha, to Racine, Walworth, Washington and Ozaukee counties." 

Reporter Sean Ryan of the Milwaukee Business Journal has been following the bid to lure Amazon. He says metro Milwaukee has both pros and cons. "We're not as big as other cities. We don't have the same kind of available skilled workforce that a larger city might offer. It's probably also cheaper to do business here than it is to do business in Chicago or to do business in Austin or Denver."

Mayor Barrett and Waukesha County Executive Farrow turned in the region's proposal to Amazon Wednesday, on behalf of the M7. The company has said it will decide where to build its second headquarters sometime next year.