Mayor Betsy Price said Saturday that the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region has a strong shot of at least getting on the short list in the nationwide bidding war for one of the country’ biggest economic prizes — landing the second headquarters of online retail giant Amazon.
The mayor of the nation’s 16th largest city made the prediction as a featured panelist at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival, a three-day political extravaganza that draws political figures and media stars from across the country.
Price is teamed with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to pitch Dallas-Fort Worth as a region in the hopes that Amazon will ultimately select a site somewhere in the sprawling metropolitan area, fourth largest in the country.
Asked by a panel moderator to assess the region’s chances, Price replied: “ Because it’s Fort Worth and Dallas. What more do you have to say.” Laughter erupted when she added: “With Fort Worth being the best piece of that.”
The online retail giant is looking for a second Amazon headquarters campus that could employ as many as 50,000 and pump a $5 billion investment into the winning location. Scores of major cities are scrambling to submit their bid proposal before an Oct. 19 deadline. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
“We feel very confident that we’ll get at least on the short list, then the gloves will come off among the cities once you make the short list,” Price said. “And we’ll win.”
Price was among a number of county and municipal leaders who used their appearance at the so-called extravaganza to outline their pitches in the Amazon competition, underscoring the prestige and economic potential that could come with winning the company’s second headquarters. But Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins warned that controversies that erupted in the Republican-led state Legislature this year — including a broiling fight over an ultimately unsuccessful “bathroom bill” — could hinder the state’s chances of landing the site.
Jenkins, a Democrat, said Texas entities bidding for the project could be forced “to swim upstream” against competitors in other states because of a perception that Texas is an “inhospitable place” for some of the company’s workers. San Antonio City Council member Rey Saldana, whose city is also making a big push for Amazon, said state cuts in education and inadequate graduation rates could also present a negative in Texas’ bid for the contract.
“We’re going to have some work to do,” he said.
Price, Rawlings and other county and municipal leaders said that Texas cities collectively, and individually, offer a bonanza of selling points, including fast-growing populations, soaring economic growth and an array of cultural attractions from Fort Worth’s Stockyards to the River Walk in San Antonio.
“I don't think anybody has more personality than El Paso,” boasted El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, touting the attributes of his international border city on the far western edge of Texas.
City leaders acknowledged that the crucial ingredient will be a potentially huge package of economic incentives offered to the retail giant, though officials involved in the bidding war have kept possible figures close to the vest. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to come up with an incentive package from the state’s “deal-closing” Texas Enterprise Fund to counter expected offers from other states.
Cities that have already announced their intention to bid for the project include New York, Toronto, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Mo., Atlanta and Detroit.
“The odds will be against us just because there will be a lot of other cities vying for this,” said Rawlings while nevertheless stressing that Dallas and Fort Worth have a lot to offer, including the fourth-largest market in the U.S. and “more tech employees than any place in Texas.”
More than 4,700 participants were registered for the Tribune Festival, a three-day series of panel discussions and interviews at the University of Texas and ends Sunday. The Tribfest, as it’s commonly known, is sponsored by the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan online publication based in Austin.
Major speakers included U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota; U.S. House Democratic whip Stenny Hoyer; former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice; and a host of state, local and congressional officials. Fort Worth Star-Telegram Executive Editor Lauren Gustus and Dallas Morning News Editor Mike Wilson were panelists at a discussion on the role of daily newspapers in the digital age.
Texas U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans, will be featured in a closing session Sunday in what is billed as a conversation to discuss issues such as Texas’ stature in Washington, the state’s rebuilding effort in the aftermath of Harvey and the state of conservatism in the Trump era.
Mayor Price’s Tribfest appearance augmented her stature as a staunch advocate of local control in a year when the Texas Legislature sought — and in some cases succeeded — to supplant cities and counties’ authority on a range of issues. New laws were enacted to dilute local authority over ride-hailing cab service and annexation powers, but local officials escaped an ambitious but unsuccessful tax reform effort led by Gov. Greg Abbott that was seen as an effort to place caps on city and county property taxes.
Fallout from the state-local battle in Austin was evident in panel discussions Saturday as Price and other municipal leaders defended the cities’ rights to manage local affairs.
“It’s overreach,” said El Paso’s Margo. “The bottom line is it goes against the basics of Texas liberty not to have local control.”
“This was a very difficult session and it’s not just here in Texas. It’s going on all over the nation and it just happened to be focused here in Texas,” said Price, adding that state officials aren’t in the position of dealing with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of responding to local problems, from fixing potholes to ensuring clean drinking water. “I’m not sure they understand the complexities of running a city,” she said.
But State Sen. Don Huffhines, R-Dallas, said the state, while not attempting to “micromanage local government,” was constitutionally entitled to exert its authority over cities. “The state Legislature has not only the authority to regulate cities and counties,” he said, “but we’ve got the obligation to regulate.”