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Amazon says No to Grand Rapids and the Right Place Inc. will still not make the proposal public

January 19, 2018

Yesterday, it was reported that the online sales giant Amazon, has narrowed down their list of cities to twenty and Grand Rapids is not on the list.

MLive reported, “Although we were not selected to advance in this process, we take great pride in how the greater Grand Rapids area was presented to Amazon and the collaborative work that went into it,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place economic development program. 

MLive went on to say, “The Right Place team included Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., the city of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.”

Considering that the City of Grand Rapids was involved in the process, one would think that the 108 page proposal from Grand Rapids to Amazon would have been a public document. Not so.

I inquired with a few Grand Rapids City Commissioners, who directed me to Kara Wood, the Director of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. Wood said that the proposal to Amazon was NOT a public document and that I should talk to someone from the Right Place Inc.

I sent an e-mail to Tim Mroz, who wrote back saying:

Thanks for asking about Amazon and the proposal. Unfortunately, as hard as everyone worked on it, and as incredibly proud of it that we are, we have decided not to share it publicly. If it would help, I can provide some images/photos of the actual proposal.

Why is the Right Place Inc unwilling to make the proposal to Amazon available to the public? One can only speculate. It seems reasonable, however, to assume that part of the pitch was to provide Amazon with major tax breaks and subsidies, like so many other cities did. Many cities also offered public land for the new Amazon facility. Therefore, if public tax breaks were part of the equation and possibly public land, why was the document not made available to the public?

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, and now the wealthiest person on the planet, is accustomed to getting tax breaks from the government. According to an article in Slate.com:

Good Jobs First, which tracks corporate welfare, shows that Amazon has received $1.2 billion in subsidies since its founding, including $177 million this year alone. Economists are very skeptical about tax breaks for corporate relocation generally—including for Amazon’s strenuous warehouse jobs—but the scale of the HQ has brought subsidy offers to new heights. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, backing Newark’s bid, announced $5 billion in tax breaks.

The massive tax breaks issue is also echoed by Neil deMause, who was interviewed on Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s radio show, CounterSpin

“I think that clearly paid off for Musk and Tesla, to the tune of $1.4 billion. So I’m not really surprised that Jeff Bezos and Amazon are looking at something similar here, and I think, given what we’re seeing from what’s leaking out about some of the bids (which are not public) for Amazon, it looks like they’re going to be looking at some kind of tremendous taxpayer windfall as well.

deMause goes on to say:

And, this is what really is driving the bidding war so crazy, what Greg LeRoy talks about, is that you’re seeing these crazy numbers being thrown around, because it’s not like there’s another company down the road that you can say, well, if we don’t get Amazon, we’ll just get the second-best thing to Amazon, because there is no second-best thing to Amazon. It’s Amazon or the highway.

Sure, there would have been new jobs provided by the company, but Amazon has a track record of having many of their workers needing to rely on Food Stamps, just to get by. 

However, the lack of transparency is what is particularly troubling in this case, especially since it is quite certain that tax breaks were offered in the deal.

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