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We still don’t know what Minnesota was prepared to offer Amazon to win HQ2

photo of amazon logo on bookstore door
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Amazon announced its search for a second headquarters in September 2017; proposals were due in mid-October 2017.

St. Paul-based Public Record Media is primed for continued battle to uncover the details of state’s submitted bid to land Amazon’s HQ2 in the fall of 2017. The nonprofit PRM filed suit last year against the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and regional economic development group Greater MSP, the two entities that worked on assembling the state’s pitch to the e-commerce giant. PRM lost at the district court level in a ruling issued January 3rd; on Thursday the group filed an appeal in the case.

DEED has argued that it doesn’t have a copy of the bid. Greater MSP contends that as a private group it is not subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro found that the bid does not need to be disclosed because there was no contract between Greater MSP and the state. The decision was a ruling on motions to dismiss the case that had been filed by both Greater MSP and DEED.

PRM, which focuses on government data transparency, had 60 days to decide if it would file an appeal.

Among the issues in the appeal are whether or not summary judgement should have been granted in the case. PRM executive director Matt Ehling notes that summary judgement should only be granted when there are no factual disputes in a case.

“There are lots and lots of factual disputes here,” said Ehling.

Ehling also argues that it’s clear from material they’ve gathered that DEED was working in concert with Greater MSP on the bid and that DEED staffers had access to bid materials through an online portal. Ehling believes that the potential ramifications of the case go far beyond Amazon.

“If the district’s court’s opinion holds on this matter then data that’s housed on cloud-based computer systems is going to be inaccessible to data practices requests,” said Ehling.

Amazon announced its search for a second headquarters in September 2017; proposals were due in mid-October 2017. The bait for communities was that Amazon touted a $5 billion investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs to the winner. Minnesota has been out of the picture since January 2018 when the company announced its short list of 20 cities. But a key issue in the ongoing dispute appears to be that Greater MSP signed a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon.

On Thursday PRM also fired off letters to Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison asking for their help in resolving the matter without further litigation. Walz and Ellison are both new to office: neither had any involvement in the HQ2 bid. The same holds true for new DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, a Walz appointee.

twin cities business magazine logoPRM’s letter concludes: “PRM now respectfully asks both of you to take all steps needed to achieve full disclosure of the state’s Amazon HQ2 bid.”

A spokesman for Gov. Walz could not immediately be reached for comment.

Is Ehling hopeful that newly-elected state leaders will be more sympathetic to releasing the bid information?

“We would hope that there’s a willingness on their part to have that discussion,” Ehling told Twin Cities Business. “We are hoping that they are willing to at least enter into a discussion about what can be done to resolve this.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/01/2019 - 10:59 am.

    I hope they offered nothing. It’s shameless for Amazon, who paid zero dollars in federal taxes, to go around asking for subsidies. Socialism for the rich and corporations, and capitalism for the middle class and poor. Minnesota is better off without Amazon.

  2. Submitted by David Broden on 03/01/2019 - 11:38 am.

    Minnesotans definitely need some visibility into how and what MN proposed to Amazon and others. While i would not support major state buy in in any way i am very concerned that MN did nor portray a postitive interest approach to the Amazon objective in a way that would show MN as open to location of businesses which offer growth opportunity for MN. Some of the press comments suggested MN just sort of walked away without showing interest. This is not good Marketing 101– back to school. Similarly the Army /Futures Command proposal was similarly addressed and because i had some knowledge and links to the planners i offered to help- there was no interest even when i explained how MN fit he objecitives and showed how we had a chance to win. There is definitely a need to provide Mn citizens a view of how these activities are pursued and communicated. We can and should do better. The Futures command would bring 400 plus permanent high tech proefessionals and support workers of all levels I am following the start up in Austin Texas and it would have been a plus for MN.

    Dave Broden

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/01/2019 - 12:19 pm.

      Regardless of the marketing approach Minnesota did or did not use, it’s not particularly relevant to the topic at hand. What’s in question is the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize corporate interests which are very profitable already on their own. As for the Army Futures Command, I can’t think of a bigger waste of money. The country has been a National Security State since Truman in which threats were falsely conflated in order to build up the military budget, which in turn allows war profiteers like Northrop Grumman and Halliburton to flourish. These perpetual war footing creates misplaced power ripe for abuse. The DoD would be better off with substantial budgets cuts.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 03/01/2019 - 03:33 pm.

    Without going into the Futures Command details – some knowledge of the purpose of the Futures Comamnd to get to basics and function much like a think tank or by similarity to DARPA– hhome of the internet or as DRAPER Labs are to MIT this command is set to be an incubator or new and emerging technology and adjustment to geopolitical change including consideration of cyber security,, autonomous vehicle,,artificial intelligence and yes even global warming. Each of these and more would have been and can be element of MN economic future. It could have been a great catalyst.

    dave Broden

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/01/2019 - 03:46 pm.

    Who cares. In retrospect it was a scam, with the inflated promises and extravagant offer of tax incentives of a similar deal negotiated by Scott Walker, former governor of Wisconsin.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/02/2019 - 08:06 am.

    I’m glad that whatever the “bid” was, it wasn’t enough. This business of multi-billion dollar companies demanding public subsidies… and getting them reveals the TRUE nature of American “socialism”.

    The truth is the companies that extort these subsidies in exchange for their location decisions never deliver on the big “promises”. By the time Amazon got to NY that 50,000 “new jobs” figure had shrunk to 25,000, and NY gave them 3 billion dollars.

    The fact that these companies are demanding non-disclosure agreements tells you that they don’t want anyone to know what they promised, and what they were promised in return, why would they want to keep that a secret? The problem with these subsidies is that there is no mechanism to track the promised economic benefits or measure the results afterwards. They can promise whatever they want, and they can deliver whatever they want.. and they get to keep the money regardless.

    PRM is doing us an invaluable service because these “deals” relying on government officials and public money simply cannot be allowed to function in secrecy. We cannot sanction government for oligarchs in the shadows without risking the very essence of our democracy.

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