RALEIGH – Let’s be real. After spending more than a year courting Amazon, it hurt a little when the company decided to give the Triangle a pass. But now that the dust has settled, what’s next?
Well, according to Michael Haley, who was front and center in the negotiations, a lot.
In his dual role as director of executive director of Wake County Economic Development and senior vice president at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, he worked closely with regional partners developing the city’s proposal and presenting it to the powers that be at Amazon.
Last Tuesday, when the e-commerce giant officially announced its decision to split its second headquarters between New York and outside DC, it was also news to him.
“We found out like most of everyone else,” he said.
“One of the things we knew going into this was that we were among, if not the smallest, metros in the country that made that final list. At the end of the day, they went to two of the largest metros in America. It was just a market size issue for us. [They told us] that really was the deciding factor.”
Had they known beforehand of Amazon’s decision to split the project, would it have changed the team’s proposal?
“Not at all. The way we position the market for us in this project is the same we do for any project – whether it’s a large, multi-national company or talking with entrepreneurs.
“To us, it’s pretty simple: talent, education ecosystem, diverse regional economy and quality of life. That’s the way we pitched our market. That wouldn’t change at all.”
To add salt to wound, Amazon also announced plans to open a new operations site in nearby Nashville, adding 5,000 jobs.
Haley said the team didn’t know it was up for grabs, and never had the chance to bid on the site.
“No, that’s something the company itself found to be a requirement through their process. It was not part of the original project.”
41 active projects, but no word on Apple
Instead, Haley was all too keen to look ahead to projects on the horizon, even as he remained tight-lipped on Apple.
Since June, WRAL TechWire and WRAL have been reporting that the Triangle is one of two sites Apple is considering for its new campus. But in recent months, it appears to have gone quiet.
“I’m not going to speak directly about any single company,” said Haley when pressed to give an update.
- More coverage: Wake dangled more than $100 million in tax breaks to Amazon
Nevertheless, he maintains that the region has a “strong project pipeline” with several companies looking to this area for “headquarters or shared services.”
According to Wake County Economic Development’s latest figures, there are a total of 41 active projects. That translates into more than 10,000 potential jobs and $3 billion in investments.
Over the last few months, Haley says he’s been in constant contact with a number of companies over possible projects. However, he wouldn’t identify any by name.
“It’s literally the gamut – from small, growing, early-stage companies to large companies in a variety of sectors. There are a lot of companies and projects on this list.”
To land those projects, Haley said the Triangle must play to its strengths as a higher education hub – with its 12 colleges and universities in the region, including Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
“Really, this is about talent,” he said. “That’s what drives the conversation for companies. So [we must] invest in our talent pipeline from Pre-K to life-long learning in our region.”
To that end, he pointed to the fact that Wake County voters recently approved selling $548 million in general obligation bonds to help school construction keep up with student population growth.
Improving transit is also a top priority, he said.
Many industry insiders believe Raleigh’s lack of a commuter rail system also hampered its bid for Amazon. But Haley said the city is working to actively address those concerns with its $2.3 billion transit plan that will be implemented over the next 10 years.
“This is a community that is truly investing in itself and its future,” he said. “That’s critical to a market that is growing.”