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Thirst Tracker: The Final, Desperate Ploys to Attract Amazon’s HQ2

It’s blessedly coming to an end, but the attempts to woo Amazon aren’t quite over

The globe surrounded by an Amazon logo Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Over the next several weeks, The Ringer will be documenting the various desperate strategies cities are using in the competition to land Amazon’s massive second headquarters. The Thirst Tracker will catalog the stunts local officials are using to woo Amazon, explore some of the ways thirst manifests itself in economic development deals, and dig into how Amazon is changing city infrastructure and community planning.

After weeks of wooing, persuading, and even some light begging, the deadline has finally arrived for proposals for Amazon’s HQ2. By Thursday, somewhere around 100 cities will submit in-depth explanations for why their communities have the applicant pool, cultural amenities, and tax breaks to be worthy of Amazon’s second headquarters. We won’t know until next year which city Amazon chooses, but we already know thousands upon thousands of government man-hours have been spent on a dream that will end in disappointment for the vast majority of applicants. Here’s a look at some of the last-ditch efforts cities are making in hopes of winning the HQ2.

Birmingham, Alabama

Metro-Area Population: 1.1 million

Top School: University of Alabama–Birmingham (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report)

Top Cultural Attraction: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (as ranked by TripAdvisor)

Thirstiest Quote:

Outside Pizitz Food Hall, Birmingham’s requisite upscale food court in its revitalized downtown, there’s a massive Amazon shipping box towering next to the entrance. The boxes are dotted around Alabama’s biggest city as an Instagram-friendly promotional ploy to get it on the e-tailer’s radar as the city preps its HQ2 bid. In my brief time by the big box Tuesday, a pair of elementary school teachers stepped in front of it to snap pictures. Vickey Bailey, a lifelong resident of the Birmingham area, wants to believe the city has a legitimate shot at HQ2, even though larger cities such as Atlanta, Denver, and New York are drawing the most predictions. “‘I’m an optimist, so I’m always hoping,” she says. “Our only drawback is that Alabama doesn’t view education as [highly] as it should. Just tax breaks sometimes is not enough.”

Two people snap a selfie with an oversize Amazon shipping box outside Pizitz Food Hall in Birmingham, Alabama
Bring A to B

Inside the food hall, the city has also installed a huge Amazon Dash button that sends thirsty tweets (like the one embedded above) when pressed. Even if these gestures don’t sway the business, they certainly create community buzz. “I think this is fun and it gets people excited,” says Hannah Garmon, who works for the Alabama Historical Commission in Montgomery. “Getting people excited maybe will get Amazon excited about Birmingham.”

Kansas City, Missouri

Metro-Area Population: 2.1 million

Top School: University of Missouri–Kansas City

Top Cultural Attraction: National World War I Museum and Memorial

Thirstiest Quote: “I haven’t worn diapers in decades, but as the mayor of Kansas City, the nation’s No. 7 city to raise a family, I do represent tens of thousands of babies who depend on their diaper’s leak-guard technology to make it through the day.”—Kansas City Mayor Sly James

What compels a 65-year-old man to discuss his personal diaper-wearing habits in public? He got way too personal in one of a thousand reviews he wrote about Amazon products in an effort to grab the online retailer’s attention. In addition to Luv’s Ultra Leakguards Diapers, James critiqued Fiber One Cereal (to tout his town’s fiber internet), a French press coffee maker (to hype Kansas City’s coffee shops), and a pair of unisex baby pajamas complete with built-in footies to keep his “toesie woesies warm” (reason … unknown). Every product, unsurprisingly, received five stars.

Newark, New Jersey

Metro-Area Population: 20.2 million (includes New York City)

Top School: Rutgers University

Top Cultural Attraction: New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Thirstiest Quote: "There is no other place in the country that Amazon should go but here.”—Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

Baraka’s quote seems innocuous enough, until you find out it’s backed by a whopping $7 billion in tax incentives if Amazon does indeed set up shop in Newark. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is trying to push through legislation that would grant Amazon $5 billion in state tax incentives, while the city of Newark may be willing to add $2 billion in sweeteners. That would be within sniffing distance of the record $8.7 billion corporate tax break that Washington offered up to keep Boeing in 2013. And it’s possible other locations may offer even more.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Thirstiest Quote: “We’re trying to encourage great companies like Amazon to consider us.”—Charlotte Hornets president Fred Whitfield

One subgenre of thirsty Amazon proposals is the sports celebrity pitch; Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, and the football coaches of Michigan and Michigan State have all humbled themselves before the altar of Jeff Bezos for their respective cities. But the biggest catch is Michael Jordan, whose letter to the Amazon CEO will be included in Charlotte’s official proposal. Strangely, the content of the letter appears to be secret. Did Jordan include a pair of his newest sneakers in Bezos’s shoe size? Did he offer to help Amazon negotiate rights for NBA broadcasts? Did he remind Bezos that he used sneakers, Gatorade, and underwear to usher in the age of global capitalism and insatiable materialism that is now most resonantly defined by an Amazon Prime subscription? Perhaps, but it’s way more likely he tried to gas up the Hornets and made an oblique reference to the defunct Seattle SuperSonics.

Seattle Metro Area

Metro-Area Population: 3.8 million

Top School: University of Washington

Top Cultural Attraction: Chihuly Garden and Glass

Thirstiest Quote: “We have a very strong card to play. We are already home to Amazon.”—King County Executive Dow Constantine

In a strange bout of mental gymnastics, officials in the state of Washington are trying to convince Seattle-based Amazon to move … just outside of Seattle. A cadre of nearby communities including Bellevue and Tacoma are teaming up to make the pitch that there’s no place like (just next to) home. Some local officials have speculated that Amazon doesn’t want to expand out of the city and is essentially punishing Seattle for not appreciating the jobs, urban development, and economic investment it brought to the city. Still, there’s probably no choice that would piss off the rest of America more than if Amazon announced it had essentially changed its mind about setting up shop elsewhere in the country.

An earlier version of this piece included a quote by Fred Whitfield that was taken out of context.