Image courtesy of Amazon.

Think big and be creative.

Amazon coaxed cities to do just that when bidding to host the Seattle-based online retailer’s second North American headquarters, and Pittsburgh will submit a truly competitive bid in mid-October, says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“We have a lot of assets. I feel really good about this. It’s in our sweet spot and their sweet spot,” says Fitzgerald, who is working with Mayor Bill Peduto and state, corporate, university, foundation and labor leaders to craft a convincing proposal.

He says Pittsburgh has affordability and attractive quality-of-life factors, along with many potential sites for Amazon to spread out: in Oakland near top researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, at the Almono site in Hazelwood, in the Strip District, Lawrenceville, South Side, Cranberry and along the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor.

No one has yet identified parcels, Fitzgerald says, but, “We’ve got a lot of locations that could be shovel-ready.” Incentives – likely tax breaks, grants, workforce training, and/or government-owned land – are an Amazon requirement in its request for proposals. That’s palatable to Pittsburgh leaders to court a company of Amazon’s size, says Fitzgerald, who talked with Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday.

“We’ve got to sell ourselves against all these other sites in the country,” Fitzgerald says. He’s not sure which cities might be major competitors but notes that Pittsburgh regularly makes the short list of attractive locales for robotics and advanced manufacturing companies in tech blogs.

Amazon, with more than 380,000 employees worldwide and revenue of $136 billion, is looking to invest $5 billion in Amazon HQ2, where it would hire 50,000 workers.

“We are looking for a location with strong local and regional talent—particularly in software development and related fields—as well as a stable and business-friendly environment to continue hiring and innovating on behalf of our customers,” Amazon says in its online RFP. “We encourage cities to think big and be creative.”

Such an investment and the tens of billions of dollars generated by Amazon HQ2’s construction and ongoing operation would be a huge win.

The public and private sector team putting together a bid for Pittsburgh quickly began brainstorming. The Mayor’s Office says they’ll build upon the Smart City Challenge application to the U.S. Department of Transportation that made Pittsburgh a finalist last year.

“With an unmatched portfolio of technological talent and intriguing development parcels, Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned to submit a winning bid for Amazon’s facility. This is a transformational opportunity unlike any that we’ve ever seen,” Peduto says.

Amazon wants proximity to a population center of at least 1 million, and to an airport and network of highways. After initial construction in 2019, its space requirements could expand to 8 million square feet by 2027.

The new headquarters will be “a full equal to our current campus in Seattle,” Amazon promises. The company estimates its investments in Seattle from 2010 through 2016 added $38 billion to the city’s economy – every dollar invested by Amazon in Seattle, where it has 40,000 employees, generated $1.40.

Amazon is among tech giants such as Uber, Google, Apple and Microsoft with footholds in Pittsburgh. Amazon employs hundreds of people at its fulfillment center in Crafton, and expanded this year to a SouthSide Works location where at least 50 employees fill technical roles for Amazon Web Services and the company’s voice-controlled intelligent assistant, Alexa.

Pittsburgh’s largest employer, UPMC, employs nearly 70,000 and reported $14.3 billion in operating revenue for fiscal year 2017.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.