Triangle leaders hope forecast transit improvements will help woo Amazon

Jeff Bezos; Amazon
FILE - In this June 18, 2014 file photo, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walks on stage. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The final 30-day stretch is underway for cities to sell Amazon on coming to town.

The retail giant is in search of a site for its second tech headquarters, which anticipates the creation of as many as 50,000 jobs. Amazon has a deadline of Oct. 19 and a list of its criteria. The Triangle meets most of the requirements.

Amazon wants areas with skilled workers and strong job growth. Joe Milazzo, the executive director of the Regional Transportation Alliance Business Coalition and a member of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said that expectation matches the same needs of other big businesses which recently picked Raleigh and its surrounding area.

“Those same things that are attractive to Amazon are going to be attractive to many other companies, and we’ve seen that they are, given the amount of announcements that we’ve had in the past few months with companies like Metlife and Infosys and Credit Suisse.”

It wants a strong university system nearby. Research Triangle Foundation president Scott Levitan points to the three tier-1 research institutions of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“We also have a community college that prepares people for the work force. We have really strong network of historically black colleges and universities, and all of those have a role to play,” Levitan said.

The costs of living and the quality of life are also crucial, as well as area amenities. Milazzo said the Triangle offers it all.

“If you want small town, if you want university community, if you want suburban area, if you want city life, we have all of that and they’re in different places in the market,” he said.

“The market is a triangle. We’re named after a shape. What that means is we’re going from point A to point B to point C, as opposed to one central city and everybody’s commuting in. It naturally disperses the traffic congestion.”

Traffic is another key component of Amazon’s decision. The company wants communities with commuting options including great public transit.

“It’s not our strongest suit,” Levitan said.

The Triangle is preparing for major mass transit growth in the coming years. Wake County voters in 2016 approved a sales tax increase to fund more bus, bike, and train transportation on existing tracks. Durham and Orange Counties approved construction of a light rail.

“Our community knows we need more transit to keep growing. We’ve got a good transit in place right now. We’re going to have a better transit system as the years go on,” GoTriangle communications and marketing director Mike Charbonneau said.

“We’re moving forward on making those transit connections that are going to make us even more competitive and better support all of the people who live here.”

Charbonneau said the current construction at Raleigh’s Union Station area is physical proof of this commitment to commuters and companies.

“Looking at a company like Amazon, showing them what we can do for their employees and customers today through transit, showing them how much better it’s going to be, and give them that 10 year vision that’s going to connect all of us,” he said.

Milazzo said transit is an asset for the growing market, not a liability. He said the current plans are scalable, flexible, and innovative.

Amazon also wants international air travel with non-stop flights to Seattle – the home of Amazon’s primary headquarters — as well as San Francisco, New York City, and Washington. There are numerous direct flights from RDU to airports in the nation’s capital and New York City, but there are currently only two daily non-stops to each of the west coast cities.

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