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Little Rock mayor says city will make push for second Amazon headquarters

Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced that Arkansas's largest city will make a push to bring a second North American headquarters to Little Rock. (Photo: KATV)

Billions in capital investment and nearly 50,000 high-paying jobs are on the line, as e-commerce giant Amazon searches for a location to establish a second corporate headquarters somewhere in North America. Tuesday, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced that Arkansas's largest city will make a push to bring the large-scale operation here.

Mayor Stodola initially took to Facebook to announce that Little Rock will submit a bid to bring Amazon to the Capital City. In a statement following up to his post, Stodola touted Little Rock's central geographic location, access to roads, rails, rivers and runways, in addition to the city's growing tech-sector to show how Little Rock, "fits the bill."

"It will be a challenge, but I am putting together a team that will get together next week and we will have more details then," said Stodola, claiming the city will 'Think Big and Be Creative" in making their pitch.

While items mentioned by Stodola like the Venture Center, the Tech Park, the Innovation Hub, Acxiom and Merkel, FIS, and the UA-Little Rock's Emerging Analytics Center will certainly be attractive to Amazon - there are several items the Little Rock metro area appears to lack on the list of the tech giant's preferences and requirements for placement of a second headquarters.

According to the eight-page request for proposal Amazon posted for the second headquarters location, a metro-population must be more than a million people. The most recent U.S. Census data estimates the population of the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR Metropolitan Statistical Area at 724,385 - an area containing all of Pulaski, Faulkner, Grant, Lonoke, Perry, and Saline counties.

"We can talk numbers and probably squeak out that million if we need to," said Jim Dailey, former Little Rock mayor and current chairman of the Little Rock Airport Commission.

Dailey said the 50-60 mile population radius surrounding Little Rock is likely closer to 950,000 people - a number slightly more marketable to Amazon. While Dailey said the pitch may be a bit of a long shot for the area, he likened it to playing the lottery - you have to play to win big.

Amazon's wish list for what a future home-city would include is lengthy; but good housing stock, a highly-educated workforce, a business-friendly environment, solid access to mass transit, as well as cultural diversity are high on the list of preferences. Dailey said housing is there, but there's room to improve on mass transit - something he believes would be an easy fix.

The wish list also includes access to interstates, as well as an international airport within 45 minutes of the city. While international travel has certainly been on the mind of Little Rock's airport commission for at least the last 15 years, Dailey admitted Little Rock still isn't a international destination yet - but Amazon could be the push it takes.

"If that's what it takes for us to be at the table to attract a company like Amazon to do what they're talking about doing, with tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade - then I can assure you Little Rock Airport is ready to step up to the plate."

Little Rock has learned from mistakes in the past, Dailey believes - likening the proposal at hand to the city's failed bid bring FedEx to Arkansas.

"Little Rock lost the opportunity to bring Federal Express here when it was just beginning to form as a company, and we didn't step up to the plate to do things that were necessary then," said Dailey, adding that it's been decades since then, and believes the city knows what it needs to achieve a positive outcome.

Incentives to offset costs for Amazon, according to the RFP, "will be significant factors in the decision-making process.” Dailey said he believes, Little Rock and the state will certainly do what they can to sweeten the deal to bring Amazon to central Arkansas.

Time is of the essence, not only in how quickly the project could come to fruition, but also for the deadline set by Amazon for cities like Little Rock to submit their bids to put themselves in the running. Responses to the request for proposal are due by mid-October, a decision is likely to be made by next year and Amazon is hoping to start the first phase of construction in 2019.

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