Prince George's joins Baltimore in competing for Amazon headquarters

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is pitching his home jurisdiction as the best place for Amazon to build its second headquarters, effectively pitting the D.C. area against Baltimore in the national competition to lure the tech giant and its promised 50,000 new jobs.

“We think that Prince George's County has the best opportunity to do what Amazon wants,” Baker said Tuesday.

His announcement comes four days after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said he wanted to entice Amazon to pick Port Covington in South Baltimore, and he promised to personally lobby CEO Jeff Bezos.

Baker, a Democrat who is running for Hogan’s job, said he would seek state assistance in putting together the application for Prince George’s to win the new, 100-acre campus.

“You're not competing against Baltimore,” Baker said in an interview. “You're competing for the state to go after a project that will get national competition.

“As a state, we want to put forth the best possible option. It doesn't hurt for the state to present several options,” he said.

Amazon set off a national race two weeks ago when it invited metro areas to apply to be the Seattle-based company’s second home.

The company published a wish-list that included access to airports and major highways, a well-educated workforce, a high quality of life, a transit system and a big, shovel-ready spot that could accommodate a brisk construction schedule.

In return, Amazon promised 50,000 new jobs and the possibility of future expansion, a prize that launched economic development teams across the country to start touting their hometowns as the best fit.

In Maryland, Baltimore officials and later the governor coalesced around a plan to offer Amazon waterfront space in a city development that has already secured $660 million in public financing for infrastructure. Hogan called a news conference last week to announce his support for the Port Covington location, saying that the city “needed the shot in the arm more than anywhere else.”

“The governor believes Port Covington is a tremendous site, and the state will be supporting efforts to bring the Amazon HQ2 to Baltimore City,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said in a statement Tuesday. She added, “as the governor has said, he would welcome Amazon to any location within Maryland, and the state and the Department of Commerce will work hard on behalf of any jurisdiction submitting a proposal.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh declined to comment on Prince George’s County entering the competition.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, another Democrat running for governor, initially pitched several spots in his area for Amazon. He withdrew that idea Friday morning and suggested Maryland officials focus on bringing the company to the city.

Economists said the locations share some assets: They would both draw from a well-established technology workforce, benefit from universities with strong STEM programs.

“Each site has a great set of opportunities and I think each site on its merits could possibly win,” said Daraius Irani, vice president of Innovation and Applied Research at Towson University.

A headquarters in Prince George’s County would benefit from a broader potential workforce, drawing employees from Washington, D.C., and Virginia, whereas a Virginia-to-Baltimore commute may be a hard sell, Irani said.

New Carrollton, Greenbelt and College Park are also better connected to public transportation, with Metro stations close by, Irani said.

Baltimore, meanwhile, offers more affordable real estate, a shovel-ready site at Port Covington, and an urban feel that suburban Prince George’s County lacks, said Anirban Basu an economist and and CEO of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore.

What’s more, Baltimore is primed for growth, whereas suburbanites may not be as welcoming of high-density development that would make the Capital Beltway area’s bad traffic even worse, said Basu, who is also chair of the Maryland Economic Development Commission.

But to win Amazon, Baltimore will have to count on Bezos overlooking — or embracing — the city’s national reputation for crime and violence, he said.

“Baltimore the underdog — that could be very appealing to Jeff Bezos,” Basu said. “He could be part of a turnaround story.”

The state would also need to commit to major transit improvements as part of its proposal for Port Covington, both because easy access to public transit is on Amazon’s wish list and because adding 50,000 jobs without improved transit could be a recipe for gridlock.

“It would be not just a sweetener but something that would be necessary if Amazon came,” Basu said. “It’s part of the economic reality that would be Amazon in Baltimore.”

Baker emphasized that multiple applications from Maryland could only help the state’s chances. He likened it to how Prince George’s pushed two spots for a new FBI headquarters, and both were among the three finalists. The Trump administration has since put that project on hold.

In the end, this is really job creation for the entire state,” Baker said.

Baker listed attributes of Prince George’s County that he thought Amazon would find attractive, including a racially diverse workforce at a time when the tech industry is seeking greater diversity.

In addition to the Metro rail system, he said, Prince George’s is sandwiched between major airports in Baltimore and D.C., features an urban area with ample space to build, and is surrounded by several universities, particularly Maryland’s flagship school.

“You can't underplay the potential of having the University of Maryland, College Park and its innovation center there,” he said.

Development advocates in College Park pitched the area early last week as an excellent candidate for Amazon after the governor and others backed Baltimore as Maryland’s best bet.

Ken Ulman, the former Howard County executive who leads an economic development foundation associated with College Park, said in a statement last week that that the university would help produce graduates who could work for Amazon in Port Covington.

“We as the flagship university are an important part of Maryland's effort to lure Amazon here,” Ulman said Tuesday. “We stand ready to play the best role possible.”

Meanwhile, Baltimore County officials said there is a possibility Amazon will build a new warehouse at the Tradepoint Atlantic development in Sparrows Point. The Baltimore County Council is weighing whether to support a potential $2 million loan from the state to help build it. Such loans require General Assembly approval and backing from the Hogan administration. Officials from the state and Tradepoint Atlantic declined to comment on a potential loan. Representatives from Amazon could not be reached.

If ultimately constructed, the “fulfillment center" in Sparrows Point would be seven miles from the Amazon’s existing million-square-foot distribution center on Broening Highway in Baltimore City.

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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