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Invite Amazon to Build Near the Eugene Airport

February 27th, 2018 by dk

Oregon did not make Amazon’s list of a dozen finalists for its proposed second headquarters. Portland offered a 32-acre parcel near the former Pearl District Post Office that is ripe for redevelopment, but Amazon’s attention has landed in big cities farther from Seattle. It’s not known if any other Oregon cities were among the 238 proposals Amazon received, but none made the cut.

Amazon says it will now work collaboratively with the finalist cities to develop an urban campus that could eventually bring 50,000 jobs to whichever city is selected. “Work collaboratively” is polite mega corporation-speak for “squeeze them for every tax incentive they can imagine offering.”

Imagine how Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis would respond if Amazon’s Jeff Bezos called and offered a city of workers roughly the size of Springfield or Corvallis. That would be enough to get any mayor’s attention. Who could count how much hoop jumping there will be between now and the end of the year, when Amazon says it intends to choose a winner?

While this high profile audition is attracting everyone else’s attention, the city of Eugene should send Amazon a proposal that would be far less sexy, but still very substantial for Oregon — and also extremely well timed.

Amazon should be shown why land near the Eugene Airport would be the perfect place to build a regional distribution center. Land near the airport has just been added to Eugene’s urban growth boundary, the airport has just completed a substantial expansion itself, and our location is ideal for quick deliveries across the southern half of the Pacific Northwest region.

Bezos and his company are famously obsessed with logistics. Next-day delivery has been proven to increase sales in virtually every product category. Short turnaround times will become even more important as Amazon uses Whole Foods to expand its reach into organic foods and groceries. Rumors are now pointing to Amazon’s interest in selling and delivering prescription drugs.

Customers will want their drugs and groceries to be delivered faster than their new table lamp or yoga mat. Same day delivery for more items is already on Amazon’s horizon.

If you were a short-haul trucker with a full load bound for Portland or Bend, would you rather deal with the traffic leaving Seattle or Eugene? Likewise, pilots will appreciate not having to jockey for an available runway when flying in or out of the Eugene Airport. And the distribution center’s workers will love the housing and commerce that is near our airport, especially if a sudden employment boost resuscitates the city’s confidence in an airport bus route.

Eugene’s planners understand that our best regional economic driver is our airport. Under Airport Director Tim Doll’s leadership, air traffic has grown steadily, recently surpassing a million passengers for the first time. This growth has been accomplished without accompanying strides in the airport’s package-delivery sector. Freight moves best at night, when the airport is mostly idle.

It’s easy to forget when we are standing in a TSA line that the airport’s capacity is vastly underutilized. Its runway can accommodate any commercial airplane, up to and including Air Force One, the President’s Boeing 747. In fact, it has.

The land around the airport is begging for a boost. Twice the city has requested proposals for an airport hotel, and twice the responses have not met expectations. Lane Transit District tried running a bus to the airport, but didn’t find the strong demand that flows most reliably from regular work schedules.

The airport’s best path forward may not be more incremental growth. If we want an airport hotel and reliable public transportation to and from the airport, a sudden boost would make those amenities necessary and sustainable. Other national delivery services like UPS or FedEx may find Eugene to be an attractive hub, but none would generate as much buzz for the region and its future as Amazon.

Pick up the phone, Mayor Vinis and Director Doll. While other cities are competing for HQ2, show Amazon how Eugene can improve the company’s delivery logistics and be part of the city’s next big leap forward.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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