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Buffalo fails to make the cut for Amazon's HQ2


Amazon has released its short list of 20 candidates for its second North American headquarters and a joint bid submitted by Buffalo and Rochester is not on the list. Toronto did make the cut, the only Canadian city to do so.

Seattle-based Amazon plans to invest more than $5 billion in the second headquarters and hire 50,000 employees over 10 to 15 years. 

The internet retail giant received 238 applications and said narrowing the list down was difficult.

Tom Kucharski, president and chief executive officer of Invest Buffalo Niagara, was disappointed but nonetheless pleased with the pitch made by his office and by his counterparts in Rochester.

"We thought we put together a pretty compelling proposal," said Kucharski. "Our attitude is very positive. Rochester and Buffalo. We go after everyone thinking we can win it."

Among the Northeast cities that made the cut are New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus and Newark, New Jersey. They will compete with the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Denver. Toronto, Ontario is the lone Canadian city still in the running.

In announcing the joint bid last October, economic development agencies from Buffalo and Rochester touted the region's affordability, talented labor pool, and ease of transportation, among other assets.

Mayor Byron Brown, in a brief statement Thursday, said he was disappointed to learn the news, but is proud of the "sophisticated proposal" the two cities submitted.

"This would have been another transformational opportunity for our City, but with the nearly $7 billion in economic development underway, our momentum will not slow down," Brown said.

AJ Baynes, president of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, is also among those disappointed by the news. He was not surprised, though, that this region missed the cut.

"I think, unfortunately, the population and labor mass they're looking for at Amazon, we might just be falling short on that," Baynes said. "But that is something the state is taking very seriously."

Baynes added that the bid for Amazon's "HQ2" was still good for the region because although he saw Buffalo-Rochester's chances as a "tall order," the only way the region may succeed is if it "steps into the batter's box."

"It's great that Western New York did that," he said. "Hopefully we'll see more proposals come our way and the opportunities present themselves for us to step back in there. If we start hitting those singles and doubles, they're going to turn into the home runs that we're looking for."

Kucharski said since they submitted the Amazon bid, Buffalo and Rochester have teamed up to work on three other projects.

"The thing that's lost here is that we've been doing that," Kucharski said. "We've probably been doing it for eight to ten years. We've actually had some successes, the Muller Quaker facility in Batavia which is now Hood Dairy, Alpina Foods, Pride Pak, there are a number of successes where we worked together."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz expressed gratitude to Amazon for looking at the Buffalo-Rochester bid but added that luring smaller companies that create jobs is just as important as trying to go after the big corporate entities.

"This doesn't stop our efforts with trying to change our local economy," Poloncarz said. "Since November 2012, there's been more than 18,000 jobs created in the Buffalo-Niagara metro market and some of those jobs are Amazon-related with their new distribution facility in Lancaster."

Amazon employs an estimated 500 people at that facility. One question WBFO asked is whether Western New York might still see some positive economic spinoff if Toronto were to win the Amazon sweepstakes.

"If Amazon eventually chose the Toronto metro market to be their Amazon HQ2, they would certainly have to have another base of operations in the United States," Poloncarz replied. "This would be the logical location for any spinoff that would be US-related, due to Amazon HQ2 being in Toronto."

Kucharski, meanwhile, thinks it might be in Western New York's best interest to root for New York City at this point.

"If this were to go to New York City, the fact that the governor and Empire State Development would be involved at an intimate level - they already are - that would bode well for other operations to be not only in Buffalo-Rochester but throughout the rest of the state."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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