MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County, albeit a long shot, could be home to the next headquarters for online giant Amazon — a project that would include up to 50,000 employees and some $5 billion in capital investments.
The bid, officially submitted Oct. 16 by FedEx to Amazon's original Seattle headquarters, comes from Sarasota-Manatee homebuilder Carlos Beruff. The site he proposed is 935 acres in north Manatee County, on the Manatee-Hillsborough County line, just off Interstate 75. Beruff, founder of Medallion Homes, bought the land for about $5 million in 2013.
“We can build a city for them here,” Beruff tells Coffee Talk. “They will have a blank palette.”
Amazon released a request for proposal for the headquarters project, what the company dubs HQ2, in September. That set off something of a frenzy among big cities and regions nationwide, including Tampa-St. Petersburg, to bid on the economic development prize. (Tampa-St. Pete officials, in conjunction with Enterprise Florida, are also bidding on Amazon HQ2.)
Manatee County actually submitted two sites to Amazon's HQ2 project. The second site is in Lakewood Ranch, home to the area known as Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration (CORE). Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area EDC, says the EDC does not promote one site over the other, but puts options available in Manatee County forward for consideration.
At Medallion, meanwhile, the firm worked with urban planner Shay Atluru, president and CEO of engineering consulting firm DTC, and planning firm Looney Ricks Kiss to create an HQ2 proposal. The final product was a 93-page glossy and colorful book filled with data, anecdotes and letters of support. Beruff calls the book “Hollywood, not mom-and-pop,” but with real data. It took about five weeks and $45,000 to create the book, says Beruff, and that doesn't include hours taken off other projects at the $70 million homebuilder, founded in 1984.
Beruff realizes the Amazon HQ2 bid might not be a frontrunner. But this is an entrepreneur, after all, who ran for U.S. Senator in a Republican primary in 2015-2016 without having ever won political office. He embraces the long shot.
“You may strike out,” he says, “but if you don't get in the batter's box and take a swing, you will never get a hit.”
(This story was updated to reflect the second bid in Lakewood Ranch.)