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Emanuel says he’s ‘not sorry’ he didn’t go higher than $2.25B to lure Amazon

Video by Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday that subsidies are at least a part of the reason why Chicago lost the Amazon sweepstakes but he’s “not sorry at all” that the city and state didn’t go higher than $2.25 billion.

“You can’t win if you don’t compete and you’re not guaranteed, just because you compete, you’re gonna win. What I do know is that we have won more than any other city over the last five years,” Emanuel said.

“I’m not sorry at all [that he didn’t up the ante] . . . The right type of way you incentivize a company isn’t through just money. It is through a 21st century airport, 21st century mass transit, a 21st century workforce with a university system to back it up. And also an affordable and dynamic neighborhood system, which is what we have.”

Amazon on Tuesday made official the disappointing news Chicago has known for a week.

No one city will be home to Amazon’s second North American headquarters.

Instead, the economic development plum of the century known as HQ2 — with a $5 billion investment and 50,000, six-figure jobs — will be divided between Crystal City, Va. and the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.

“Everybody was reporting about a second [North American] headquarters. No city won the second headquarters,” Emanuel said Tuesday.

“We have the fundamentals. So did other cities have fundamentals. There is a difference in the way they offered incentives vs. ours . . . But I happen to think, as I’ve always said, our fundamentals are strong. Which is why we succeed more than ever.”

The mayor and now outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner had joined forces on a $2.25 billion incentive package aimed at luring Amazon and offered up ten sites in an around the downtown area. Several of them, including the massive South Loop parcel known as “the 78”, enticed Amazon enough to get two site visits.

After promising an “all hands-on-desk, all-resources-to-bear” bid for the Amazon prize, Emanuel also put together a cheerleading squad comprised of 600 movers-and-shakers with hardly a civic or religious leader or a big name in business, finance, technology, education and the arts not included.

None of that was enough.

Emanuel said he knows now why Amazon made the decision it did. The reasoning was outlined during a phone conversation he had Tuesday morning. The mayor didn’t say who was on the other end.

Now was he willing to disclose what was said during that call for fear of alienating Amazon and losing any chance to build on the footprint the retailing behemoth already has in Chicago.

“I’m not gonna offer a hint because then, it would be the last time you have a discussion” with Amazon, Emanuel said, adding that he doesn’t “believe in consolation prizes.

“Public companies are not gonna share with you information [if you leak it]. This is not the last time they’re gonna make a decision. And if they think every time they have a conversation with you the first place [you go] is [to] the press, they’re not gonna [come to your city]. Now, that may be new to you. But that’s the way we do recruitment.”

The Washington, D.C., area had the edge all along.

The area landed three sites on Amazon’s short-list: Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Amazon’s billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is putting down roots in Washington, D.C. Five years after purchasing the Washington Post, Bezos recently plunked down $23 million in cash for Washington’s former Textile Museum with the intention of converting the 27,000 square foot building into a single-family home.

Holly Sears Sullivan, the head of worldwide economic development at Amazon Public Policy, is the former president of the Montgomery Business Development Corporation.

On Tuesday, Emanuel tried to put the best possible face on the defeat.

After making company recruitment a “core function” of the mayor’s office, Emanuel said he is confident Chicago is on the right track, even though it lost the Amazon prize.

“We happen to be in a place that is literally number one in the world for millennials. Companies are looking for that talent. They’re looking for that connectivity that O’Hare, Midway and our CTA is working,” he said.

“There are some things that we have to continue to build on. That is, making sure we have a tech economy that’s been a focus of mine that is actually world class. We have all the fundamentals there. But we have to continue to be strong in that area.”