Earlier this week, Amazon announced that its HQ2 would be split between two different cities: New York City and Crystal City, Virginia. The news left Dallas, Austin, and fifteen other cities that made the shortlist snubbed. (Nashville, which got a regional operations center out of the deal, landed a consolation prize.) Shortly after the announcement was made, Dallas—along with a number of other cities—revealed what it had offered to Amazon in its attempt to woo the tech titan to the city.
Let’s take a moment and go through some of the highlights. A special department within City Hall, assembled at the company’s convenience, to ensure that questions get answered and things go smoothly? That makes sense. $425 million in tax increment financing, another $100 million in hiring grants for Dallas residents, and $40 million in property tax abatements? That is a whole lot of money to give to one of the largest corporations in the world, which definitely does not need half a billion dollars worth of tax dollars as badly as Dallas’s residents do.
But perhaps the standout among the incentives was, uh, puppies! “The City of Dallas has waived all pet adoption fees at the Dallas Animal Services adoption center for Amazon employees, and will offer free microchipping services until 2022 to all Amazon pets, whether or not adopted from our shelter. (Estimated Value of $250,000),” the pitch document offered.
The fact that Dallas was willing to let all of this hang out after they lost the bid sits in stark contrast to Austin’s approach.
The City of Austin made its bid through the Chamber of Commerce, which means it is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. The offer was coming from Austin and would involve incentives that the city would pay for, but technically the private Chamber of Commerce that the city contracts with made the deal, so the Texas Supreme Court has held that it’s technically not public information.
There’s been some reporting about what was in Austin’s bid, and a well-worn line includes the notion that it didn’t include the millions in tax incentives that Dallas, New York, Crystal City, and a number of the other cities that have released details on their bids offered. But it’s not clear if that’s entirely true. When Austin was one of the 238 cities bidding to host Amazon in 2017, it appears that the package they submitted included no up-front incentives. After the company released its list of twenty finalists, however, it’s unclear what was included in any follow-up.
Dallas was willing to go out there and tell residents that, yep, they offered to give away more than $600 million in tax dollars, and all of the puppies that Amazon employees could pet, and they still didn’t get anything out of it makes Austin’s reluctance look hollow.
Of course, the perception of Amazon in Dallas is different from the way it’s been perceived in Austin. In Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings has been soul-searching about why the city’s bid fell short on landing a project that his constituents supported. In Austin, it’s less likely you’ll find people lamenting the loss. That might explain why Dallas was interested in letting people know that they tried, and Austin would rather people not learn exactly what their leaders promised to a company that is already fully capable of funding its own projects anywhere on earth (or the moon!).
Did Austin promise puppies? A promise that Amazon employees got their own line for Franklin Barbecue brisket? Half a billion dollars in tax incentives? Or—as the city has been content to let local media put out there—did the final negotiations with Amazon include nothing at all in terms of up-front incentives? Unless Austin reveals the same information that many of the other finalists have released, all we can do is speculate.