JEFFERSON CITY • Opting against picking a favorite between St. Louis and Kansas City, Gov. Eric Greitens is telling Amazon it could have both cities — plus a sprinkling of Columbia — if the company chooses a Missouri location for its second headquarters.
Although the Show-Me State’s largest metropolitan areas are 250 miles apart, the Greitens administration says connecting the two via a futuristic and largely unproven people-mover called the Hyperloop could serve as the catalyst for the online retailer to put a Missouri location on its short list.
“We actually think this is something that deserves serious consideration. It’s the kind of thing that would fit with Amazon’s bold thinking,” said Drew Erdmann, who serves as Greitens’ chief operating officer. “We’re just challenging Amazon to think in a new way.”
The concept is part of a state-focused bid package being submitted to Amazon in addition to the separate bids by Kansas City and St. Louis. At stake is a $5 billion project that could amount to 50,000 high paying tech jobs that has become an economic rallying cry for cities across North America.
Rather than pick a favorite, Erdmann told the Post-Dispatch that the state chose to emphasize what it could do for both metropolitan areas by outlining an undisclosed amount of tax incentives the state can offer.
Then, to put a bow on the package, Erdmann said the Hyperloop is the type of flashy, out-of-the-box feature that might catch Amazon’s analytics-driven attention as it sorts through scores of applications from cities across the nation.
“We have not heard of anything that is quite frankly as bold and transformative as saying, ‘Don’t just imagine one city, but imagine two cities and the third city in between — Columbia — and then imagine transforming that whole region,” Erdmann said. “We haven’t heard anything like that.”
State officials, however, are refusing to disclose how much taxpayer money they are willing to commit to the project, saying the information is secret because of a non-disclosure agreement between Missouri and Amazon.
“We really can’t get into it,” says Maggie Kost, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. “It’s a standard practice.”
“There are certain things that I absolutely can’t talk about because of legal restrictions related to ongoing negotiations. That includes things basically related to the specifics of the proposal and particular incentives,” Erdmann said.
But, he said those details eventually will be revealed if any of the Missouri bids advance.
“We will see if we make it to the next round. This is not the first time in the history of Missouri that there have been serious negotiations that will be ongoing that are under these legal requirements,” Erdmann said.
The amount of incentives being offered by other cities and states has varied. New Jersey and local officials are pledging $7 billion in tax breaks. Others are taking a more modest approach and touting the positive features of their cities.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening, Rob Dixon, director of the Department of Economic Development, downplayed the incentives being offered by other states.
“Economic development projects are not driven primarily by incentives,” he said.
The Hyperloop, meanwhile, is a technology that purports to use electric propulsion to move travelers and freight in pods through a low-pressure tube. Magnetic levitation is used to lift the pod above the track, gliding at airline speeds because of low aerodynamic drag in the tube.
A trip in the supersonic tube between St. Louis and Kansas City, including a stop in Columbia, would take an estimated 25 minutes, according to its supporters.
Last month, electric car pioneer Elon Musk, said the price of a seat would be comparable to an economy class airfare.
The Missouri Department of Transportation and the University of Missouri system are teaming up with the St. Louis Regional Chamber, KC Tech Council and Columbia-based Missouri Innovative Center to raise money for a feasibility study estimated to cost about $1.5 million.
The actual cost of constructing such a system along the Interstate 70 corridor would likely be in the tens of billions of dollars. It remains unclear how exactly such a project would be built along the interstate, which itself is in need of billions of dollars in upgrades.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, recently invested money in HyperloopOne. He told Reuters in an interview that he believes the technology will take two years to perfect and build. And, even then, it would initially focus on freight in order to determine if it is safe for human travel.
Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the state is committed to moving forward on the concept, which is being touted as a transportation option not only in numerous cities across the U.S., but internationally.
“This is a very competitive climate. It’s a long term project,” he said.
Even if the two cities do not advance in the Amazon sweepstakes, Erdmann told the Post-Dispatch that the experience could have positive long-term effects.
“I think some people will be surprised and they will say, `That’s an interesting idea. That’s a bold idea. The idea of pulling together your two great cities that oftentimes kind of view themselves as rivals,’” Erdmann said. “Missouri is thinking in ways that will surprise you. I think that’s a positive overall.”