Chasing Smokestacks in the Dark: The Amazon HQ2 Quest Revives Debate Over Economic Development Secrecy


The 2017 competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, which drew more than 200 applications, is a prime example of how states and localities are attempting to keep confidential information about tax benefits and other deals with private companies. While Amazon’s competition may be a more dramatic example, states and localities regularly craft deals with private companies. Hundreds of deals—with tax breaks, offers of public property, and other sweeteners—are proposed annually to attract companies that promise to bolster the local economy with new jobs and spin-off industries. This paper, utilizing legal analysis and interviews, explores the pattern of confidentiality in economic development deals nationwide, providing recommendations for balancing secrecy and transparency.