There’s a lot to unpack in this story, but as our Owen Courreges said of the $6.56 billion corporate welfare bid to attract the online retail giant’s headquarters expansion project to the New Orleans area, “Thank God we lost.”
You read that number correctly. Six point five six billion dollars.
Louisiana Economic Development officials laid out five potential sites in the New Orleans area for HQ2: Churchill Technology & Business Park in Jefferson Parish; Brechtel Park, Innovation District and University of New Orleans Campus in Orleans Parish; and Lakeshore Estates in St. Tammany Parish. LED said it would have offered more site options had New Orleans been chosen.
In the end, the money that LED put up for the project was not enough, as New Orleans failed to make the cut of Amazon’s 20 finalists. Gov. John Bel Edwards and several local officials in the New Orleans area wrote letters as part of the proposal, highlighting the state’s business climate, workforce development programs, and low taxes and labor costs.
“The letter of intent, combined with Louisiana’s business-friendly tax structure and low-cost environment, ensures that (Amazon) will minimize its ongoing costs to operate profitably,” the proposal said. “Beyond the state’s low state/local tax burden, Louisiana is recognized for some of the lowest wage rates and real estate costs in the nation.”
The bulk of the package—around $5 billion—came from the state’s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive, which offers companies refundable tax credits for production and payroll expenses. The total incentive package was over a 20-year period. LED officials noted the incentives were performance-based, meaning Amazon would have had to produce the jobs and capital investments it promised.
“We made a powerful case for Louisiana, but the reality is fewer than one in 10 proposers made the short list, with finalist cities tending to be the nation’s most populous urban areas,” LED Secretary Don Pierson says in a statement. “Only one city will win HQ2, but Amazon likely will announce many other economic development projects over time, and Louisiana will be recognized as a stronger candidate for fulfillment centers and other facilities because of the HQ2 effort we mounted.”
It’s hard to understand how LED and the governor’s office are out trying to sell an Amazon on siting HQ2 in Louisiana based on the state’s low tax rates when he’s trying to raise a billion dollars in new taxes at the same time. That’s a fact which goes hand in hand with Louisiana getting snubbed by Amazon as it picked its top 20 potential sites; it’s a pretty good indication that Amazon isn’t really all that impressed with the “low tax burden” in the state or its “business-friendly tax structure” when a $6.56 billion offer won’t even get you into the Top 20.
Louisiana was never in the mix for HQ2, because Louisiana doesn’t offer a business either a low tax burden or a business-friendly tax structure. Louisiana can offer incentives in order to swing a company looking for a handout, but those incentives are not a substitute for an actual low tax burden or business-friendly tax structure. Other states have those, plus they’ll offer incentives. And nobody in their right mind is going to site a corporate headquarters in this state given this leadership.
The HQ2 fiasco shows that.
Louisiana needs a complete sea change in its political culture and economic policy before any real competitiveness for a 50,000-job corporate headquarters will ensue. And it needs a complete change in its top-level leadership to make those conditions improve.