Former KOMO reporter Lindsey Cohen spotted this plane flying over Seattle today. The photo is a little blurry, but squint and see the message: "JEFF. HOUSTON IS CALLING—AMAZONHQ2TEXAS.COM."
Of all the stunts aimed at wooing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to develop a second headquarters in their city, this is up there with Tucson's 21-foot cactus on the embarrassment scale. But unlike the cactus, today's flying banner is unlikely to get a response from the reclusive Bezos or his Seattle-based bookseller.
As it turns out, the brains behind the flying banner is not from Houston proper, but a company called McCord Development that hopes Amazon will set up shop on a 4,000-acre site called Generation Park in an unincorporated part of Harris County, Texas. Houston sent its own proposal to Amazon for a second headquarters downtown, as opposed to McCord's site, which is 20 miles away from the city but within walking distance of a Whataburger, Home Depot and Mormon church.
The URL plastered on the flying ad takes you to a slickly-produced website promising incentives to Amazon that could "reach well into the billions of dollars." McCord also highlights Generation Park's closeness to an international airport, the region's diversity, and as Texans are want to do, size. The website includes this helpful comparison with Seattle.
Reached on the phone, McCord Development marketing director Ian Adler told me that the company sent one of the 238 proposals Amazon received for a second headquarters. He said Generation Park's sprawling greenfield campus would be a "great fit for Amazon" because "it's what the world will look like in 20 years." He made a case about the future of public transportation, saying, "Will trains be more efficient or autonomous cars? I think it’s going to evolve. I don’t know that rail lines are the future."
Adler then offered to put me on the line with McCord president Ryan McCord, who recently took over the company from his late father. McCord wouldn't give me an exact dollar amount on the incentives he pitched to Amazon. Rather, he said, "In the world of incentives and taxes and government and paying for things, there is no free lunch. The real strategy is how do you make it the most efficient and how do you have the fewest strings attached to it and how do you give Amazon the most flexibility."
He went on about Houston's low-regulation environment. "Can you imagine a city, the fourth largest city in the United States where there is no zoning?" McCord said. "There are no development controls. If you want to build something and it passes the fire marshal’s approval? You can do it."
Thinking about the low-wage jobs that would come with HQ2 alongside tech and management positions, our conversation shifted to Seattle's minimum wage law. "Texas has a low minimum wage [Editor's note: $7.24], but because of our tight employment market, folks are well compensated. We have a saying here. If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere."
"Isn't that New York's saying?" I asked. No, he corrected me.
Unsure why I was still on the phone with a random developer from Texas and unable to think of anything else to say, I asked McCord who he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. He did not answer and tossed the question back at me. I responded that I voted for Hillary Clinton. He asked why. I said I wouldn't vote for Donald Trump. He asked why. I said because Trump is racist. He then asked me what I planned to do for Martin Luther King day. I told him I will be working.
"Well, at least I am taking the day off," he responded.