The Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust voted Tuesday to offer a $1.7 million incentive to Amazon to bring a new fulfillment center to the metro in exchange for job guarantees.
The Trust turned in a unanimous vote for the measure.
Next, the deal will go before the full Oklahoma City Council for a decision on the offer idea.
But the idea did have a few challenges.
Trustee Jim Roth asked a series of questions about the deal and a citizen who owns a local retail business raised objections that the deal would help Amazon at the expense of locally-owned retail businesses.
The deal will be offered to Amazon with provisions for a guarantee of 53 “new-to-market” jobs, meaning jobs that do not currently exist in the metro.
The jobs would pay $60,000 and up and will be manager positions.
If Amazon takes the deal, they will eventually add 1,750 new jobs to the center and will make their own investment of $140 million.
During the Citizens to be Heard portion of the meeting, Morgan Harris, founder-owner of Green Bambino, a baby supply store in Oklahoma City, asked the Trust not to give the incentive to Amazon.
“I’m a small business owner that competes with Amazon every single day, and I do a pretty good job of it,” said Harris.
“I have the stock. I have the customer service. I have the people with the know-how.”
She argued that Amazon is establishing the fulfillment centers all over the United States to give same-day delivery to customers in a direct challenge to local retailers.
“I believe based on what I read in the news and the business analysis, they’re coming,” Harris said.
“So I would ask, does Oklahoma City really need to give millions of dollars to a company that’s coming here anyway and that does compete directly with the small businesses here in town that keep Oklahoma City a vibrant and interesting city to our citizens and our tourists?”
She argued that a small portion of the $1.7 million could be spent for economic development of small local businesses, which are the core of the local economy.
“Most of us do not start our businesses because we know everything about business. We start our business because of our passion for the product, our customer, and the community,” Harris told Free Press after the meeting.
She argued for using money to bring consultants in to train shop owners instead of spending millions to help a company like Amazon come in and compete with them.
Tom Florino, senior manager of economic development at Amazon attended the meeting to give a short pitch and answer questions.
Trustee Roth asked Florino “what concern you might have about small business?”
Florino’s argument was that “Amazon powers small business. Over 6500 sellers in Oklahoma are selling through Amazon.”
Roth asked Florino if residents of Oklahoma City are already being served by a fulfillment centers elsewhere.
Florino told the trustees that some Oklahoma City residents are currently being served by a fulfillment center as are people in many other cities.
Incentives a factor
After the meeting, Free Press asked Florino about the significance of the incentives.
He said, “Incentives are a material factor in Amazon’s decisions.”
Florino also identified sites, labor force availability and public transportation as factors in Amazon’s decisions about where to establish fulfillment centers.