RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – How secretive is the process surrounding North Carolina’s recruitment of the Amazon HQ and Apple projects? It’s “cloaked,” to use a Star Trek term, and so far no enterprise – media or  the General Assembly or a member of Congress – has discovered a way of penetrating the veil of invisibility surround essential facts of the process.

North Carolina could well be on its way to offering Amazon or Apple – or both – billions of dollars in tax incentives from both local and state sources. Yet no one who knows any details will say anything. And Senator Floyd McKissick from Durham warned that dollars already being offered by other states are “mind boggling and staggering.”

So will North Carolinians be hit with a fait accompli  news announcement that Amazon or Apple is coming to town at a huge cost to taxpayers?

More HQ2 coverage:

The answer from those running and deciding the process for what has been labeled under 2017 state law a “transformative project” – Gov. Roy Cooper, the Department of Commerce the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina – remains cloaked.

Even executives inside and outside of government who are aware of what’s happening won’t talk, bound by a tight non-disclosure agreement with Amazon. The ecommerce giant has reportedly threatened that any “leaks” about the $5 billion project could knock out the chances of any metro among the final 20 (including the Triangle) if negotiation details emerge. They also cited the competitive nature of the bidding process. No one wants to show what’s on the table.

While public records suits and efforts in some markets have produced details about local offers, financial details are not included. But the State of Maryland has disclosed offering some $8 billion in incentives. New Jersey has dangled $7 billion. What might be the cost to North Carolina, which agreed to $40 million in tax incentives for 1,200 jobs from Credit Suisse and $22 million for 2,000 jobs fro Infosys? The state did offer a $1.5 billion package for a Mazda and Toyota automotive plant that ended up going to Alabama. That plant will employ 4,000.

Amazon is talking 50,000 jobs. What would the tax incentive bill be for that if North Carolina wins?

WRAL has certainly made efforts to secure information about the Amazon project as Reporter Tyler Dukes reported in this story and again in this report.

The Apple secret

As to whether there is a similar NDA in place with Apple, the response from those questioned is:

“I will neither confirm nor deny …”


“Are you having a nice day?” as a Department of Commerce official replied when asked about Apple on Tuesday.

Gov. Copper, asked directly about both Amazon and Apple, said he could not speak to specifics about the Amazon process and wouldn’t even acknowledge that an Apple project is in play.

Vow of secrecy

One senior executive at N.C. State described the non-disclosure agreement involving the Amazon project as “ridiculous.” But the official declined to talk about what he knows.

The vow of secrecy includes members of the General Assembly.

Senator Floyd McKissick

The Skinny spoke with Rep. MaryAnn Black and Senator McKissick at a jobs announcement by Biogen in the Park on Tuesday.

While she didn’t seem upset, Rep Black said she had been told nothing about either project even though her district might be affected.

All she knows is that there’s a “secret code word” floating around for “a project” –  but “there could be more” code names and more projects. The state Department of Commerce routinely assigns code names to development projects it’s pursuing.

Senator McKissick, meanwhile, said he reads  and watches the media while on occasion getting some information elsewhere from sources he declined to disclose on the record.

The Skinny asked him about whether all the secrecy ran counter to the public interest, noting lawsuits filed in other Amazon bid processes.

He concurred.

No D.C. connection either

Then there is the case of Congressman David Price, who represents the 4th District that includes parts of RTP and much of Wake County – both likely landing spots for Amazon.

Price in fact helped write part of the original North Carolina proposal in response to Amazon’s request for proposals about what became known as HQ2 last fall.

However, Price said candidly that he’s not “privy” to any of the details about ongoing negotiations.

Yet Price made clear in an exclusive interview with WRAL TechWire that he was positioned in Washington to make sure funds would continue to flow to the Triangle for mass transit and expansion of RDU International Airport and that he believes the Triangle could win.

Developers, too

The secrecy extends to developers, too. John Kane, the developer of Raleigh’s North Hills and many other projects, said in an interview Tuesday that he, too, is out of the loop. And he crafted one of the plans for how the Triangle could accommodate Amazon’s needs.

Developers of the massive development project in Chatham County did tell the Durham Herald Sun this week that they had been told Amazon officials were briefed on two possible locations in the Triangle.

As to whether Amazon officials have even been to the Triangle, officials in the process treat that news as forbidden.

But Kane wasn’t upset about the cut-off. He said it’s standard procedure for developers to be cut out of the information loop as a recruitment process narrows.

One other fact makes the cut out of Kane even more interesting, though.

Kane is chair of the board for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which took the lead in putting together a team of people from state government, the public and private sectors to spearhead the Amazon HQ2 effort.

Standard procedure

Over and over, the response to questions about all the secrecy have led to standard answers:


Standard operating procedure.

Or “that’s the way the economic recruiting game is played.”

But with the chance that the price of an Amazon victory could be in the billions, aren’t the stakes higher than any previous project covered by the SOP?