As part of the failed attempt to attract a new Amazon headquarters, Mayor G.T. Bynum was prepared to offer a public vote to raise perhaps $30 million a year in new taxes to secure the new business.
As it turns out, Tulsa did not come close to meeting several criteria for Amazon and did not even make the top 20 list of candidates.
“We committed to Amazon or suggested in our proposal is that I would work with them and with the Tulsa City Council in bringing forward a vote of the citizens that fund infrastructure, not just for their headquarters but the type of infrastructure that would serve the headquarters but also make Tulsa the type of place that it is easy for them to recruit new employees to,” Bynum said of the failed bid.
Bynum said the incentive he envisioned for Amazon was like the .4 of a cent sales tax increase county voters passed in 2003 for the Boeing Company. That tax was approved but Boeing never intended to come to Tulsa but used it for leverage for a better deal elsewhere. The tax was not levied because Boeing rejected Tulsa.
“I would have no qualms about asking the citizens of Tulsa to do something of similar size on the ballot for this type of opportunity,” Bynum said.
He said generating about $30 million a year for Amazon with a higher sales tax would be “reasonable” to get 50,000 new jobs for Tulsa. He said voters have already shown they would support a new tax for a corporate give-away like Amazon.
Bynum said he would have liked to offer Amazon city property at 23rd Street and Jackson Avenue next to the Arkansas River as an inducement.
Amazon wanted a city with at least a million people and Tulsa doesn’t match that number. Amazon wanted direct flights to San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C., and overseas and Tulsa International Airport doesn’t have those.
Amazon requires 500,000 square feet of space initially and eventually 8 million square feet and there is no place in Tulsa that meets that criteria.
Amazon requires multiple incentives and without a big sales tax increase, Tulsa doesn’t come close to what other cities are offering.
Amazon needs 50,000 employees and Tulsa could not supply that many workers. Amazon wants mass transit, railroads, trains, subways and bus routes. Tulsa only has buses.
Amazon wants a city with great universities. Only Tulsa University and Oral Roberts University – both private schools – have four-year campuses in Tulsa.
Bynum said efforts to lure businesses have to be kept secret from the public. During the process, Bynum refused to detail Tulsa’s proposal but deferred to the chamber of commerce, a private business that also refused to give details of the bid.
“We are working on initiatives like this every single day,” Bynum said. “But most of the time they are shrouded in secrecy. A lot of the time we don’t even know the companies we are pursuing, let alone be able to share that with the public and engage all of our citizens in putting our best foot forward as a city.
“I think Amazon deserves credit for the transparent way they went about this process, being very upfront …”
The finalists were Boston, Dallas; Denver; Atlanta; Chicago; Los Angeles, Miami; New York City; Newark; Philadelphia; Austin; Indianapolis; Nashville; Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Montgomery County; Maryland; Raleigh, North Carolina; Northern Virginia; and Columbus, Ohio. Toronto, Canada, was also on the short list.
Reports say 238 communities submitted bids. Amazon did not say where Tulsa fell on that list.