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Niagara offers A to Z solution: County will make bid for Amazon's attention

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Thu, Sep 7th 2017 08:25 pm
Niagara County Legislature Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Kathryn L. Lance and Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board member William L. Ross discuss development opportunities at the Niagara County International Airport in this undated file photo.
Niagara County Legislature Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Kathryn L. Lance and Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board member William L. Ross discuss development opportunities at the Niagara County International Airport in this undated file photo.
By Christian W. Peck
Niagara County Public Information Officer
Niagara County economic development officials will pitch the county to global commerce giant Amazon as an optimal site to expand its entry into foreign markets and optimize legal free trade and international commerce opportunities in an era when multilateral trade treaties are undergoing increasing scrutiny at the federal level.
The chairwoman of the Niagara County Legislature's economic development committee and other county leaders directed the Niagara County Center for Economic Development staff to put their full attentions into developing a "serious proposal that leverages Niagara County's very unique trade benefits" in response to Amazon's plan to build a second, $5 billion headquarters to complement its Seattle base.
"With the NAFTA free trade pact under intense review by the Trump administration, the rules underpinning global commerce, including bilateral trade with our largest trade partner, Canada, may change," said Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Kathryn Lance, R-Wheatfield. "Niagara County is unique in that it offers security for low-cost entry into foreign markets and a location in the Niagara-Buffalo Metro Region with its 1.1 million people."
Lance pointed to Niagara County's Foreign Trade Zone - a legally defined, federally chartered piece of geography located adjacent to the Niagara Falls International Airport. The county's Foreign Trade Zone was authorized under a 1970s-era U.S. law that encouraged the creation of specific areas near ports of entry where commercial merchandise would be exempted from Customs duties and ad valorem taxes, according to representatives of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
"In an era of drop shipping and three-day-long logistics trains, and where supply chain management is at the heart of efforts to reduce the costs of doing business, our borders cannot needlessly slow producers goods from reaching their customers on time, all the time," Lance explained after meeting with Commissioner of Economic Development Sam Ferraro and directing him to begin compiling a proposal for Amazon. "Our FTZ can take advantage of precisely the savings in time and tariffs needed to succeed at international trade."
Lance has been aggressively marketing the FTZ for months, ever since a Canadian firm set up a large-scale operation there to finish product assembly, packing and shipping for client companies earlier this year. Much of the FTZ's acreage remains undeveloped - a fact Lance shared with Canadian politicians, business leaders and trade experts at a June conference in Canada's Niagara Region, where she served as keynote speaker.
"Our FTZ is not just about U.S.-Canada trade," Lance noted. "It's also trade bound for Asia, Latin America and of high importance our great trading partners in Europe."
Legislature Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, who is also a member of Lance's economic development committee, said he planned to look closely at incentive packages the county government could roll out for Amazon if it sited in Niagara County, and said he would reach out to state leaders to ensure the county made the best possible case.
"(Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos has built an amazing company, and the kind of employer we'd welcome here - and work very hard to attract. I expect to work closely with our Niagara County Industrial Development Agency as well as State Sen. Robert Ortt and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello to ensure that Niagara County can make a strong case to put before Amazon's corporate decisionmakers," Bradt said. "But really, the case for locating here is strong based on geographic facts alone."
Bradt pointed to the county's relative close proximity to the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, just over 300 miles away, its 46 air miles or 81 road miles to Toronto, its 215 miles to Cleveland, and its 240 miles to Amazon's massive distribution warehouse in Pittsburgh as selling points for the county.
"First and foremost, right next to our tariff-free Foreign Trade Zone, we have an airport with a very long runway, a modern freight terminal, and plenty of freight capacity," Bradt said. "Amazon could optimize an HQ2 Niagara site for international commerce while avoiding the heavy trade penalties that operating from virtually any other site in the U.S. could entail, and could move significant amounts of freight through that airport given its ability to handle large cargo jets."
Bradt pointed to 2014 investor data that showed Amazon's non-North American sales equaling 38 percent of the online retail giant's market.
"Those foreign markets are growing. Anywhere else, Amazon pays a heavy penalty to enter many of those markets, and, for the foreseeable future, will not necessarily get relief in Washington," Bradt said. "We can help them target foreign markets in a way few other communities can."
Bradt noted the FTZ could be of significant value should the North American Free Trade Agreement be revoked or curtailed in coming months or years.
Legislator Rebecca Wydysh, R-Lewiston, whose district includes the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, noted it is the optimal point of entry to gain quick access to the Golden Horseshoe and the Greater Toronto area.
"You have four nearby bridges into Canada and the 'Golden Horseshoe' - 26 percent of Canada's entire population, and all in under 100 miles by road," Wydysh said. "This includes a short, direct route to the truck-traffic heavy Lewiston-Queenston Bridge - and just a 14-mile drive from our tariff-free Foreign Trade Zone."
Lance noted Niagara County, with its world-famous Niagara Falls, plenty of available low-cost downtown commercial space, and a family-friendly environment that has introduced a number of venues targeting millennial consumers in recent years, could offer a good quality-of-life setting for Amazon corporate personnel.
"'Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History,' Lance said. "That's Amazon's slogan. It could be Niagara County's, as well. Our Center for Economic Development will ensure that Amazon doesn't lose sight of that, even as it lays out our trade benefits and devises a package of economic incentives."
Editor's note: In a press release sent Friday, Congressman Brian Higgins said he believes the Buffalo-Niagara region is an ideal choice for Amazon's new headquarters and is emphasizing Western New York's strengths in a letter to the company's CEO.
Higgins said, "Buffalo-Niagara offers clear competitive advantages for companies interested in locating and thriving here, including a reliable climate, close proximity to the international border, an educated and incredibly dedicated workforce, and an atmosphere that offers a well-rounded quality of life for its employees. Western New York's unique characteristics make this community a perfect choice as Amazon seeks to grow.
Amazon recently indicated it is conducting a search for a second $5 billion headquarters, HQ2, which would support as many as 50,000 employees. The Amazon RFP lists, among other preferences, an educated labor pool and strong university system, a diverse population, compatible transportation systems and a high quality of life.
In his letter, Higgins highlights the Buffalo-Niagara region's climate resilience, proximity to Canada, and culture of innovation among the many community characteristic that make the Western New York community an ideal pick for Amazon's next investment.
Higgins' office has also reached out to local elected officials encouraging a coordinated response to Amazon's appeal. The deadline for the Amazon RFP is Oct. 19, with final site decision expected in 2018.

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