Fresno Offers Amazon Something Unique for Its Headquarters: Nothing

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Highway scene approaching Fresno, California. (CharlesNadeau/Flickr)

Tech giant Amazon is looking for a home for its second headquarters.

The company got 238 proposals from across North America, and some cities are going to great lengths to get its attention: New York temporarily turned the Empire State Building orange, to match the Amazon logo. Tucson shipped the company a 21-foot cactus. The city of Stonecrest, Georgia, offered to rename itself “Amazon.”

And, of course, lots of cities and states are hoping to win over the Seattle-based company with massive tax breaks. Chicago is reportedly offering north of $2 billion in incentives. New Jersey is offering $7 billion if Amazon picks Newark.

In California some cities are offering major incentives, too -- but a couple are gambling on a different offer: nothing.

Proposals from Fresno and San Jose don't put up a dime in direct financial incentives. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo thinks subsidies just aren't good for taxpayers.

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Fresno’s director of economic development agrees.

"What we see with incentives oftentimes is that it’s a race to the bottom," says Larry Westerlund, who wrote the city's proposal for Amazon.

He says that when incentives get too big, it can take a long time for a city to see benefits. And while the 50,000 jobs Amazon is promising to bring with its new headquarters would be good for Fresno, the change would be hard on some people, too.

"We want to ensure that we don’t push out that middle class to where they have to commute to Visalia to be able to afford a home and then commute back and forth," Westerlund says.

So the city’s proposal offers a partnership with Amazon that would invest tax revenue the company generates into projects that are good for Fresno.

The money would go to building affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. Some would go toward creating a new generation of tech-savvy employees. City officials are pitching it as an opportunity for Amazon to become the "ultimate corporate citizen."

Westerlund admits it’s a long shot, but he points to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' penchant for making unconventional business moves. Maybe, Westerlund says, Fresno's proposal is so unorthodox the company might go for it.

"We hope that that will catch their eye," Westerlund says, "and they’ll go, 'Let’s do something different this time.' "

Amazon launched its search on Sept. 7. The deadline to submit a proposal was Oct. 19. The company says it will announce a decision next year.