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Atlanta among cities caught in Amazon HQ2 controversy, drama

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Gay rights campaign says Atlanta and eight other cities should be blacklisted; others question deal’s viability

A rendering of the 20 cities left standing in Amazon-a-palooza.
The 20 cities left standing in Amazon-a-palooza.

Two weeks after Amazon announced its 20-city shortlist for a second headquarters, and as many observers continue to point to Atlanta as an elite candidate, the sweepstakes for the company’s $5 billion HQ2 are taking a more controversial turn.

And Atlanta is caught in the middle of it.

As part of what’s called the “No Gay? No Way!” campaign, Atlanta made a dubious list of nine cities that gay rights advocates are saying Amazon should avoid, because Georgia offers residents no protections against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

The group is planning a demonstration Thursday near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and has rented billboards and even airplane banners to communicate their distaste for nine of 20 options on the shortlist, USA Today reports.

One leader told the newspaper: “We were frankly just stunned that a company with such a great track record of equality and diversity had put all these states into the mix.”

Besides Atlanta, other targets of the group’s ire are Austin, Texas; Dallas; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Miami; Raleigh, North Carolina; and the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia.

Elsewhere, others are questioning whether HQ2 would actually bring a windfall.

In an interview with CNBC Television, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis had an interesting take on the HQ2 hoopla, suggesting that landing Amazon would be a win-lose proposition.

The “winning” city could end up dishing out more in subsidies than it receives back in benefits, said Neel Kashkari, whose city isn’t among the finalists.

“I’m betting Jeff Bezos knows exactly where he wants to put his second headquarters and he’s getting all the cities to compete on who can write the biggest check,” Kashkari told CNBC.

He said that Minneapolis not landing on Amazon’s shortlist was tantamount to dodging a bullet.

Meanwhile, a growing number of economists and professors across the country have signed a petition that asks leaders in finalist cities to basically give Bezos the cold shoulder when it comes to tax breaks and other incentives.

The goal of such a “non-aggression pact,” per the petition, is to avoid a bidding war over HQ2.

Supporters say refusing to dangle monetary incentives and tax breaks as Amazon bait would level the playing field for cities and preserve fairness for other businesses unable to compete.

One official in Maryland countered that a deal with 50,000 high-paying jobs would equate to tens of billions in positive economic impact each year.

A recent poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concluded that a strong majority of Georgians—65 percent—support the state’s pursuit of Amazon, even at a high economic cost.