By Maria Saporta
Despite recent media reports indicating that Amazon has picked northern Virginia for its second headquarters, Gov. Nathan Deal has not given up that the company may pick Georgia.
Amazon selected Atlanta as one of 20 cities that were finalists to win Amazon’s second headquarters, which eventually could lead to 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars of investment.
“I don’t believe we are out of it,” Deal said at a press conference where he announced Georgia had been named the best state for business by Site Selection magazine for the sixth year in a row. “It’s never over until the fat lady sings.”
But Deal also acknowledged Georgia’s chances were slim.
“I think all of us had known northern Virginia (was a favorite),” Deal said. “We don’t have to have Amazon. We are very pleased that they recognized that we are a potential location. But we’re not going to have our hearts broken if they decide to go somewhere else.”
Then he joked that if Amazon did not pick Georgia, it would be passing up on the opportunity to pick the state that’s best for business.
Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said he felt good about the state’s efforts to get Amazon, even if it ends up not coming to the Peach State.
“I think we put together a really good package for Amazon,” said Wilson, who added that Georgia already has benefitted from Amazon. “They have got over 4,000 jobs in the state, and I’d love to see that grow.”
A team from Amazon visited Atlanta in March, but economic development officials have said on background that there has been limited contact with the company since.
“We still consider it an active project,” Wilson said.
During the press conference, Deal also expressed the state’s strong desire to have Norfolk Southern move its headquarters from Norfolk, Va. to Atlanta.
“They very much would like to move their headquarters here,” Deal said.
Jim Squires, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, has said the railroad needs to sell its 16 acres in the Gulch in order to pay for the relocation. CIM has an option to buy the property, but it first needs to get approval for its development deal from the Atlanta City Council. A vote could come as early as Monday afternoon.
If the City Council does not move forward with the project, Squires said Norfolk Southern will not be able to move to Atlanta. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has said it would be a “travesty” to lose the Norfolk Southern headquarters.
It is estimated that the headquarters would lead to 1,000 new jobs and $1 billion investment, according to state officials. The state and the city have provided a package of tax incentives for both the Gulch project and for the Norfolk Southern headquarters.
“We already have cooperated on the Gulch project on the state side,” Deal said. “I believe it’s a good project. But at this point, it’s in the hands of the mayor and the Atlanta City Council. Hopefully they will recognize that this is a project that will take a piece of property and create an economic boon.”
Deal said “Norfolk Southern has been a great partner for our state, and we hope to have an even closer relationship.”
During the press conference to announced that Georgia’s sixth consecutive year as the best state for business, Deal said 2,230 economic development locations have come to the state in the last eight years bringing 166,550 jobs and bringing almost $31 billion in investment.
In all, Georgia has added 750,000 private sector jobs in that same period. Deal also boasted that the state’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate is the lowest since 2001. When he took office, Deal said the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent.
The press conference took place on the day before the General Election, and it felt like a swan song for the governor and his administration. But members of his team said they were not finished.
“We are going to work really hard in the next few months,” Wilson said. “There are some new deals that are going to be announced in the next few weeks.”