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St. Charles County, municipalities talk Amazon, opportunity and regionalism

Cities in St. Charles County may be among many around the country making a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters – a project that could generate 50,000 jobs and result in a $5 billion construction project.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the effort also may set a precedent on just how regional the St. Louis region is and will be in the future.

Amazon’s announcement earlier this month set off a mad dash by metropolitan areas throughout the country, vying to get on the internet-based retailer’s short list of potential hubs. Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Toronto and Memphis are among the cities that may submit bids. St. Louis City and County also are discussing combined, potentially with support from Illinois, and separate offerings.

“This is such a long shot but we can’t afford not to spend some time on it,” Ehlmann said on Sept. 21. “To me, I’m spending a lot of time on it because I want to make sure we set the right precedent here.”

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

Ehlmann, county officials and representatives from the county’s five largest municipalities – St. Charles, O’Fallon, St. Peters, Lake Saint Louis, Wentzville – met Wednesday, Spet. 20 to discuss what they can offer in a bid. Ehlmann dubbed the group as “the usual suspects.” They provided information regarding what each municipality can provide as far as incentives and land.

But Ehlmann said much of what the county and its cities need to know is yet to be discovered. “We need to find out what the criteria are going to be and who is going to make the decision,” Ehlmann said. Amazon established some of its requirements in its request for proposals [RFP].

“If they have all these criteria, how much weight is Amazon going to put on each one?” Ehlmann asked. “If [they] are going to put a lot of weight on mass transit, [we] might as well forget it. But if they are going to put a lot of weight on low crime, we’re probably at the top of the list. Which is most important to them?”

Jim Alexander, senior vice president for economic development with the St. Louis Regional Chamber, discussed some of these issues at the Sept. 20 meeting.  Ehlmann said Alexander was at the meeting to listen and convey what the county’s cities can offer. He said Alexander said the county would get a fair hearing.

“This a very subjective,” Ehlmann said “More importantly, it’s to find out what the rules in the game are here.”

Media reports suggest that the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the economic development agency serving St. Louis City and County, have plans to submit a single bid.

“Whatever the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County wants to do on their own that’s fine. Everybody can go on their own here. But they can’t call it the regional [RFP] submission if they don’t have the support of the rest of the region. Regionalism in St. Louis has been, well, whatever is good for the city of St. Louis whether that was because people thought they were that important or they needed it more than anybody else,” Ehlmann said.

He said he wasn’t raising any “red flags,” but the process may stir discussion on deciding what is the best proposal for the region.

“Very seldom have the people in the city of St. Louis been asked to compromise any of their beliefs or values in the interest of the region,” Ehlmann said.

The next chance for discussion may be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27 when the East-West Gateway Council of Governments governing board meets in downtown St. Louis.  The council’s board includes the chief elected officials in the Missouri and Illinois portion of the region.

Sheila Sweeney, CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, is expected to report to the East-West Gateway board on the Amazon RFP submission. Ehlmann said he may have more questions.


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