It will probably take $1 billion or more in economic development incentives "just to start the conversation" with Amazon about securing its planned second headquarters, said Thomas Kucharski, president and CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara.
But he says that doesn't rule Buffalo Niagara out.
Amazon will probably spark a bidding war among North American metro areas eager to win the $5 billion project, which is expected to create 50,000 jobs.
Generous tax breaks are expected to be a big piece of the packages that will be used to woo the Amazon project.
Arthur Wingerter, chairman of Invest Buffalo Niagara, which works with business prospects considering sites for new locations or expansions, said New York State is "engaged" in the competition for the Amazon headquarters. And Kucharski said of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo: "The fact that he's taking such a leadership role in the conversations I think is a very, very good sign."
While most large-scale economic development projects prefer to cloak themselves in secrecy until a deal is announced, Seattle-based Amazon is taking a very public approach. Amazon is inviting metropolitan areas with at least 1 million people to put themselves in the running, by answering its request for proposals.
The regions must also meet a list of requirements, including access to an international airport and mass transit and "a stable and consistent business climate."
Cuomo has already committed $1 billion to the region through the state's Buffalo Billion program, as well as an additional $500 million through a follow-up program. But Invest Buffalo Niagara officials don't believe that history would prompt state officials to exclude the Buffalo area for yet another big financial commitment, this time with incentives for Amazon.
Kucharski noted that only three New York State metro areas – Buffalo, Rochester and New York City – meet Amazon's population criteria for the project.
"If you want to land this for your state and be something that would change the landscape forever in any of those parts of New York State, I don't think the governor is thinking in those terms" of excluding Buffalo, he said. "I think he's thinking, 'We need to be competitive.' "
JP Bak, CEO and co-founder of computer maker Bak USA and an Invest Buffalo Niagara member, said he believes Cuomo would "welcome this, because this a real business. There's no business risk in it. It's only a win-win for him, whereas the other billion, that was a risky, risky thing. I think Amazon could kind of counter what he did with SolarCity and make the whole package look so much better."
Even if Amazon ultimately chooses another city for its second headquarters, the Buffalo Niagara region could benefit if it remains a contender deep into the process, by drawing the attention of site selection consultants, Wingerter said.
Kucharski said Invest Buffalo Niagara is eager to compete for a project like the Amazon headquarters, as well as another "major, major" prospect that he said will send representatives to look at the region this week. That project, which he did not identify, would involve a $3 billion investment and 600 jobs "in an industry of the future, in a name company that everyone would go, 'yay.'''
But Invest Buffalo Niagara officials said they are not neglecting smaller business opportunities. Kucharski said the organization has 90 prospects in its pipeline, 25 to 30 of which he described as "very serious."
"The average-sized deal is still in that 75- to 200-employee count," Wingerter said. "We are excited about the Amazon thing, but we can't take our eye off hitting singles and doubles."