some of those characteristics, preparing this bid was not a waste of time, Augustine said.
“This was truly the first regional application where we pooled the assets of several communities,” he said, noting the resulting bid package could be tweaked for other prospective companies looking at sites in the future. Or the package could attract Amazon’s attention enough to convince the company to build a smaller regional office or fulfillment center here, he said.
“We knew it would be a long shot,” he said. “There are 238 communities in the U. S. and Canada” competing for this headquarters. But “you have no chance if you don’t try.”
Preparing the bid package also tells local residents that “you don’t have to leave the area; we’re trying to bring jobs here,” he said. The area has been seeing “unprecedented growth” in the last two to three years, he said, with the coming of companies like chewy.com,which opened a fulfillment center at NorthPoint in Hanover, and IRIS USA, a plastics manufacturer that will add 90 jobs to the Hazleton market in the next year. In fact, Augustine said a total of 2,500 new positions are coming to the area in the next six months across a variety of job sectors.
“Almost no buildings have started construction that weren’t occupied before they were completed in the last three years” in this area, he said.
Under normal circumstances, Penn’s Northeast doesn’t know what company they’re trying to attract to the area.
“The process is almost always shrouded in secrecy,” Augustine said, offering as an example the Gatorade facility at Crestwood Industrial Park in Mountain Top. “We negotiated for seven years before we knew it was Gatorade” that was considering the site. Typically, companies look at land or buildings rather than entire regions, and they keep their intentions under wraps. It was unusual for Penn’s Northeast to know up front that the company they were courting in this recent effort was Amazon.
Penn’s Northeast pitched six potential NEPA sites to Amazon: Glenmaura Corporate Center in Lackawanna County, Arcadia North Business Park in Monroe County, Highridge Business Park in Schuylkill County, and three Luzerne County sites –CAN DO Corporate Center Phase II in Hazleton, Earth Conservancy in Ashley and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Avoca.
In thinking through the Amazon bid and pooling statistics from the entire region, Augustine found that the area has more than 40,000 graduate and undergraduate students that a company could choose from for its employee base. He believes that’s one of the area’s biggest selling points, in part because the area’s community colleges and technical schools have already demonstrated the ability to develop training programs in short order to fill local companies’ needs.
Augustine relied on some of the area’s students to assist with the Amazon bid.
“We knew there would be hundreds of submissions” to compete against, “so we wanted a creative way” to submit NEPA’s proposal. Wilkes University students helped to design a metal box etched with the Amazon and NEPA logos along with Amazonstyle black packing tape with blue type announcing that “NEPA is the ‘prime’ location for Amazon.”
Also to set NEPA’s bid apart, the package included a “zombie survival kit” that would be furnished to every incoming Amazon employee, a tongue-in-cheek nod to a 2015 Cornell University study that said NEPA would be the worst place to live during a zombie apocalypse.
Aside from post-secondary students, other positives of this area include its location at the intersection of Interstates 80 and 81, its proximity to 80 percent of the country’s population within a two-day drive, outdoor recreation opportunities, affordability and its “hardworking men and women,” Augustine said.
He cited Mountain Top as an example of a NEPA community with “low crime, low taxes and a great educational system” and noted that while Crestwood Industrial Park does have a few open spots at this point, he doesn’t think it will be long before they’re filled.
For more about Penn’s Northeast, go to pennsnortheast.com.