Win or lose, trying for Amazon HQ2 can help Atlantic County: Experts

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Amazon building a second headquarters could be the business boost Atlantic County needs — even if the online retail giant picks somewhere else.

The county is joining what is expected to be a continent-wide search for a second headquarters that will create as many as 50,000 full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $100,000.

Amazon’s first headquarters has added billions of dollars to downtown Seattle since 2010, and this year received the City Maker award from the Downtown Seattle Association.

But, while the choice of the South Jersey area for the so-called HQ2 may be a longshot, the planning process will be a catalyst in strengthening cooperation and putting a spotlight on local redevelopment offerings, leaders say.

“This is what we were created to do and work on,” said Lauren Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, who had previously been a part of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. “This is a great opportunity for us to start putting our systems and our processes together to work on economic development projects.”

Just being able to showcase the area on a national stage will be a positive, said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who has sent the specs that the state sent to each county to all 23 of Atlantic County’s municipalities so a package can be put together showcasing the best the area has to offer.

“You’re either proactive or reactive,” said Jeffrey Lucas, who has been marketing South Jersey for close to 50 years. “We may not land them, but we’re in better shape for it for the next guy.”

Lucas, director of business development for Rose Commercial Real Estate, is the one who first connected Amazon with the area nearly a year ago, while working with a developer who had done some business with them.

It was with the idea of “here’s a warehouse location right next to a major airport,” he said.

Not to mention the Federal Aviation Administration’s nearby William J. Hughes Technical Center and Stockton University’s Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township.

“We did not know anything about a new second headquarters,” Lucas said.

There was a preliminary meeting, but nothing progressed.

Then Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy and his team launched into action.

Work quietly began in clearing the way for redevelopment of a 450-acre area near Atlantic City International Airport. The location, owned by Roger Hansen, was once Blue Heron Golf Course – East.

“I’m a business guy by trade,” Purdy said. “I’m not one to sit back and wait for something to come to me.”

But even Hansen didn’t know that the inquiry into the land was for Amazon.

It had to be confidential, Purdy said. And they had to be ready.

“Just the township taking the initiative and need in creating a redevelopment zone on Tilton Road was a huge step,” Lucas said. “It was very future-thinking for the municipality.”

Purdy said he learned from a previous major brand landing in Galloway.

The former plant of dinnerware company Lenox was ready to go when Canadian home improvement retail industry supplier Barrette Outdoor Living was looking for a place to expand.

“(Amazon is) going to go to the place that is the fastest, easiest place to do business,” he said.

Moore would not talk about specific areas, but confirmed his group is working with Galloway and Egg Harbor townships, and it “had some conversations with a representative of Atlantic City.”

The former Bader Field airport has been mentioned as a possible location, but others say the flood-prone area would not be ideal.

Levinson said he knows the area lacks several items on the long list Amazon wants, including a population of 1 million.

But he points to areas unmatched including the beach, Boardwalk and entertainment of Atlantic City.
And, there is the airport.

“The fact (the airport) is being underutilized doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into something that would be a positive,” he said. “This is an ideal place. We do believe that should be capitalized.”

Purdy even mentioned the possibility of UPS, which could lose its current spot as Philadelphia International Airport undergoes expansion.

“We will do everything we can to entice Amazon to look at us,” Levinson said. “The idea that we are going to showcase this are may catch on with other firms.”

Moore agrees: “This exercise, as the Atlantic County executive astutely points out, puts us in position to be able to do this much more efficiently the next go-around.”