CLARK COUNTY — River Ridge Commerce Center in Jeffersonville and Charlestown is joining the rest of the country in making a bid on Amazon’s quest for a second headquarters in North America. But does the business and industrial park have a chance?
The executive director of River Ridge, Jerry Acy said that the commerce center is the “ideal spot” for the retail giant’s next location, although he admits that the competition is fierce.
Amazon announced last Thursday that it would be accepting applications for metropolitan areas interested in housing their second headquarters, a potentially $5 billion project that would employ 50,000. The day of the announcement, Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto announced their intentions to pursue the opportunity, the Associated Press reported.
Five days later, River Ridge is revealing theirs.
“We are definitely interested,” Acy said.
Amazon did reveal some of what it was looking for in a location: Its second headquarters needs to be in an area with more than a million people, be able to attract proficient technical workers, be within 45 minutes of an international airport, have direct access to mass transit and be able to expand 8 million square feet in the next decade.
River Ridge has many of those desirable attributes, said Uric Dufrene, Indiana University Southeast Sanders chair in Business, but other requirements are a stretch.
“I mean, it’s going to be very tough,” Dufrene said. “It’s going to be very competitive.”
But it is possible.
First, the things Southern Indiana has going for it: The metropolitan area is home to more than a million people; River Ridge is located near everything it needs to be (airports, railroads and interstates); the Lewis and Clark bridge provides direct access to Kentucky; and Amazon already has a presence in the area. Acy adds that the commerce center has plans for a new office park in Jeffersonville near the interstate — with plenty of room for corporate headquarters.
But while the Louisville area contains more than a million people, it only holds around 300,000 more — far behind some cities, Dufrene said.
“I don’t want to underestimate the challenge with respect to the population,” the economist warned.
Fewer people means fewer easily filled positions. Amazon could draw people from nearby metropolitan areas, such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Nashville, but not everyone is willing to move away from home, Dufrene said.
He also worries that the area doesn't have the engineering and information technology workers Amazon requires.
“We do have a strong system of higher education in Louisville Metro and Indiana, but the decision will depend on the number of graduates in those specified fields and others,” Dufrene said in another emailed response.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore pointed out that the city already has a tech park, and is in the beginning stages of growing that industry.
But there's also the question of where Amazon would locate, even if it did choose the metropolitan area.
Many companies like to locate their headquarters in downtown areas because of the easy access to transportation, Dufrene said. But, Amazon could be looking for a more suburban area. (In which case, River Ridge would be a good pick).
Acy is confident enough in River Ridge’s ability to land Amazon that he’s working on organizing strategic sessions amongst the commerce center and its economic development allies, such as the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and One Southern Indiana.
Together, they’ll create a “comprehensive package” for Amazon with information about River Ridge’s amenities and possible incentives.
Other cities are doing the same thing, Dufrene said, and their incentives will likely be aggressive. Possible examples include tax abatements and the building of new roads and interchanges.
Acy said that River Ridge’s incentives might come from state and local governments. Jeffersonville would be willing to provide some, Moore said.
“We share the enthusiasm and excitement and we’d love to see [the headquarters],” he said.
Applicants have until Oct. 19 to submit their proposals to Amazon through a special website. The company will choose its city in 2018.
Whatever the outcome, Acy said that the process will be an interesting exercise. “No doubt about that.”