NC recruiters won’t disclose full offers to Amazon, Apple

FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

RALEIGH — North Carolina taxpayers may never learn how much in tax breaks, free land and other giveaways business recruiters were willing to throw at tech giants Apple and Amazon to attract thousands of jobs to the Raleigh area.

Public records tracking the Amazon project and released by the state’s two corporate recruiting agencies exclude information on what was possibly the largest basket of corporate sweeteners in North Carolina history at more than $2.4 billion. That sum was more than the offers of either of the winning locations for what ultimately was a project divided between two locations.

The state Commerce Department cited a four-year-old law change requiring the withholding of the financial details since Amazon instead opted for a site outside North Carolina. The Raleigh-Durham region was among a list of 20 finalists.

Amazon decided to split about 50,000 jobs paying an average of more than $100,000 between New York City and Arlington, Virginia. New York offered more than $1.5 billion in tax credits and other incentives while Virginia and Arlington offered about $573 million. In comparison, Maryland offered $8.5 billion for a site a short drive across the Potomac River from Arlington.

The North Carolina law to withhold details of failed business recruitment efforts was changed in 2014 just before public records disclosures showed the state offered Toyota more than $100 million to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte, but still lost out to a Texas offer half that size.

States vary on how much information they disclose about efforts to woo companies, whether those campaigns succeed or fail, said Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Center for Regional Economics for the Milken Institute think tank. Laws requiring transparency of business offers also change depending on whether political leaders feel themselves under attack for recruiting failures or perceive having a strong negotiating hand, he said.

“If they think that the extra transparency is useful for them, which it tends to be more likely for a state or a city on their way up, it makes sense. If you feel like you’re already in a pretty strong position, in some ways it might make more sense to hide the details of a bid that didn’t work” rather than let other companies demand similar benefits, Klowden said.

Documents tracking North Carolina’s pursuit of 5,000 to 15,000 jobs associated with a new Apple office hub that landed in Austin, Texas, are due for release next month. The maker of iPhones and other gadgets also announced plans to establish new sites in Seattle, and in San Diego and Culver City, California, each employing at least 1,000 workers over the next three years.

Amazon was very public since announcing expansion plans last year that state and local incentives needed to be detailed by groups recruiting its proposed second headquarters complex. The potential multibillion-dollar package of corporate enticements was scheduled to be discussed in detail during a Governor’s Mansion meeting with Amazon representatives in March, records provided in response to a request by The Associated Press show.

The state Commerce Department and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina withheld details of the tax credits and other incentives offered to lure Amazon. But an early email discussion from September 2017 shows a state tax break was expected to be worth about $2.2 billion over 15 years, though an offer that large would require General Assembly changes. Community colleges would offer training worth about another $100 million more.

Local governments also were expected to offer millions. Wake County projected the project would be eligible for another $123 million.

A state business recruiter indicated in a February email that both Durham and Raleigh had prepared separate proposals offering real estate and incentives, email records show.

Correspondence also shows that Amazon last year was still considering the implications of a state law that limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. HB2 also required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

The law was partly repealed in March 2017 in a compromise between Cooper and the Republican-majority General Assembly. Six months later, state business recruiters were reviewing North Carolina’s prospects after getting feedback and noting HB2 was “still causing heartburn” with Amazon’s leadership, documents show.

A week later, Cooper wrote to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos boasting of North Carolina’s infrastructure, education, environment and business-friendly atmosphere before touching on the HB2 dispute.

“Like every family with an embarrassing uncle or two, we have a few politicians who want it to be 1957 instead (of) 2017,” Cooper wrote in his letter. “But here in North Carolina, you’ll find authentic people who respect others, who love our families, people who work hard and are loyal to the state in which we live.”