As Colorado state legislators were debating Tuesday how to pay for improving Colorado’s overused roads, Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged that if metro Denver lands Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters and the 50,000 jobs that come with it, the state would face a tough task to get its infrastructure ready for the e-commerce giant.
In a speech to the City Club of Denver, the Democratic governor compared the process of bidding on the potential $5 billion "Amazon HQ2" campus to the vetting process he endured when being considered as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2016 — a process that a former aide to Vice President Al Gore once told him could bring a sense of relief if he wasn’t chosen the winner.
Hickenlooper said the same idea of relief could be true in a sense if Denver doesn’t win the bidding for HQ2 because of the infrastructure improvements that would need to be done, though he said the state continues to work hard to try to be the winning city among the 20 finalists for the headquarters.
The Denver Business Journal did not attend the City Club speech. I spoke to Hickenlooper later in the day after The Denver Post reported his comments regarding the bidding process.
In my interview, the governor said he did not mean in his speech that he or economic-development leaders would feel relieved if they lost the bidding process on HQ2.
Rather, he wants to prepare people that the hard work of getting ready to accommodate the new residents, new commuting vehicles and new students that come with such a major project would begin if the Denver area were chosen for the headquarters.
“Every 20 years, you get a chance to attract a headquarters that not only brings high-paying jobs but a lot of jobs. But with that possibility comes responsibility,” said Hickenlooper, a former business owner. “We have to increase our investment in infrastructure. … If we do get it, the work just begins. It’s a lot of work.”
To relate this to people, the governor said he made a “joke” during the speech that the process is similar to what he went through two years ago, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton took a long look at him as a possible running mate before deciding to choose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. Hickenlooper said he was told during the process that not being chosen would be disappointing but also would bring a sense of relief.
Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) last week announced that the Denver area was one of 20 finalist areas for the location of HQ2 and that it would begin more in-depth conversations with that score of cities before picking a winner.
Several bidders for the Amazon complex have announced that they have offered multi-billion-dollar incentive packages. Colorado has not divulged what incentives it’s offered, but they are likely to be far less than that amount, based on what state law allows.
Hickenlooper acknowledged that there has been pushback on the effort to win HQ2, both from residents who fear the development will add to rising traffic congestion and home prices and from some candidates running to succeed him as governor when his term ends next year.
“A lot of people have mixed feelings about the rate of growth,” Hickenlooper told me. “But that part [about relief] was really about how much work is involved. Once you land something like this, your work is just beginning.”
Hickenlooper’s comments come amid an ongoing debate at the Capitol over much the state should spend to improve its congested transportation system — one of those areas of infrastructure that will need a boost in order to support tens of thousands of new Amazon workers.
The governor earlier this month proposed putting $148.2 million in next year’s budget toward transportation and also has said he would like voters to get a chance to weigh in at the November ballot on whether they would be willing to contribute more of their money to a solution, possibly through a sales-tax hike.
But Republicans in the Legislature, along with a number of business groups, are pushing the state to put aside more than $300 million a year out of existing revenues in order to tackle major highway projects and to support repayment of a $3.5 billion bond issue for transportation needs.
A bill to set aside that money, Senate Bill 1, passed out of its first committee Tuesday in the Senate on a Republican-led party-line vote.
2017 Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Organizations
Ranked by Number of members as of March 1, 2017
Rank Business name Number of members as of March 1, 2017 1 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce 3,000 2 Boulder Chamber 1,230 3 Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce 1,200 View This List
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