Cities Try Convincing Amazon They're Ready For Its New Headquarters

Nikol Szymul staffs a reception desk at Amazon offices in downtown Seattle. Online retail powerhouse Amazon is searching for a second headquarters location, which an official from Toronto has called “the Olympics of the corporate world.”

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An official from Toronto has called Amazon’s search for the second headquarters “the Olympics of the corporate world.”

It’s a pretty unique situation of its kind and scale. Typically, cities and states vie for factories or offices behind the scenes. This time, Amazon’s public solicitation of bids from essentially all major metropolitan areas in North America has prompted reporters and analysts across the continent to run their own odds on potential winners.

What’s at stake?

The top-line pitch is Amazon’s promise to invest $5 billion in whatever community it picks to be the home of its second headquarters. And the company says it would bring up to 50,000 new jobs, with an average salary of more than $100,000.

In Seattle, Amazon’s towering 8.1-million-square-foot downtown campus employs tens of thousands of employees and has served as a testing ground for new retail ideas, like a store without check-out registers. Amazon says HQ2 would be a “full equal.”

What is Amazon looking for?

The company’s call for applications is extremely detailed. It should be a metro area with more than 1 million people, a business-friendly tax structure, close to an international airport and near major highways, a place with mass transit, good Internet and “excellent” higher education.

The company is also not shy about saying it wants an attractive offer of a financial incentive — a move that’s become customary for corporate expansions, which often involve tax cuts, relocation grants or fee reductions. “The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers,” Amazon says in the request for proposal.

What communities are vying for the HQ2?

With almost four weeks until the deadline, the list of potential contenders is expansive: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington/Baltimore, Atlanta, Austin, Denver, Ottawa and Toronto — cities up and down and across the continent, tallied to number more than 100 by the Chicago Tribune.

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And the communities aren’t shy about their public pitches.

“We have sites that are ready, that are transit-oriented,” says Scott Levitan, head of the Research Triangle Foundation in North Carolina. “We have tremendous fiber backbone at our site and we have a region that is absolutely focused on being the best possible location for HQ2,” he says, adding that the Raleigh–Durham–Chapel Hill metro area sits equally between the ocean and the mountains.

“Colorado is perfectly aligned with the company’s culture of collaboration, and innovation, and focusing on its customers,” says Yuriy Gorlov, vice president of the Aurora Economic Development Council, also highlighting the Denver area’s access to fiber, power, transit and a nationally recognized hiking trail system.

“We feel like we have a lot to offer, in terms of our talent base, our logistics, our business-friendly climate,” says A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “And most of all, people love to live and work here.”

[Note: Amazon is one of NPR’s financial supporters.]

What are the cities’ biggest considerations or potential concerns?

Though Amazon likes to tout the billions of dollars it says it has injected into Seattle’s economy, the city has been tested by the massive corporate presence.

Over the years, frustrations aired by residents of Seattle (headquarters there employ 40,000 employees) have included rapidly rising housing costs, traffic congestion, gentrification and pressure on local businesses. As The New York Timesreported recently:

“Some local lawmakers have blamed Amazon for being a primary contributor to the region’s lack of affordable housing and other woes. The City Council recently unanimously approved a tax on individual income over $250,000 and $500,000 for couples, which would affect high-earners at Amazon. The legislation is facing legal challenges.

“The local antipathy toward the company was summed up in graffiti that recently appeared on the wall of a busy downtown traffic tunnel: an expletive before the last name of Mr. Bezos.”

The communities seeking HQ2 aren’t likely to be naive about what happens when a city gets flooded with thousands of high-net-worth office workers. But in the heat of a bidding war, none of the economic-development officials interviewed by NPR said that anyone on their team has suggested to avoid the bid because of potential negatives.

Of course, bidding for Amazon isn’t like bidding for the Olympics — the Games come and go, the corporate headquarters stay — but Atlanta’s Robinson said his city definitely learned a useful lesson from hosting the 1996 Games.

Founded: 1994 in Seattle

U.S. employees:341,400 (in January, the company said it plans to create 100,000 more jobs in 18 months)

2016 revenues:$136 billion

Stock market capitalization:$467 billion

Stock price growth in last 5 years: up 281 percent

Fortune 500 ranking:12th

U.S. facilities: 214 across the country

“Having survived the Olympics, we know that post-winning, you have to deliver,” Robinson says. “You have to have the infrastructure, you have to be willing to invest in transit, in types of things that this number of workers will need, the housing stock and so forth.”

Major pushback has so far focused on the potential cost to taxpayers, as all bidding communities weigh how they can entice Amazon with tax credits, free land or other financial perks.

After The New York Times analysis zeroed in on Denver as the best candidate for Amazon’s HQ2, The Denver Post published aneditorial titled, “In Denver’s courting of Amazon, officials should remember the taxpayers.” The Post‘s editorial board wrote:

“We’d love to see Amazon locate here, as long as we’re not left feeling like we’ve given away the store.”

NPR’s Art Silverman, Emily Sullivan and Business Desk intern Yu-Ning Aileen Chuang contributed to this report.

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Bangladesh Copes With Chaos: Rohingya Refugees Are 'Coming And Coming'

Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh on September 17. They are fleeing government violence in Myanmar.

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A semitrailer pulls up, full of rice, water, clothes, medicine, biscuits.

Aid workers hand out the supplies to thousands of anxious, impatient and hungry refugees.

The scene is chaotic — and aid groups say that’s how it has been for the past few weeks. Over 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled government violence in Myanmar — where they are a Muslim minority — for Bangladesh. They are straining the capacity of aid agencies on the ground and of the Bangladesh government. And more refugees arrive each day.

They line up from 8 in the morning, says Raihanul Islam Mia, a local government official who is supervising the distribution. It’s taking place at a site on the road from the city of Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh to the town of Tefnaf, near the border with Myanmar.

“More than 10,000 people I’ve given relief today,” says Mia. He’s been at it for 14 days. “They need food,” he says. “And each and every day more Rohingya come from Myanmar.”

When do you think they’ll stop coming? I ask.

“I don’t know. Know only Aung San Suu Kyi,” he says. The Nobel laureate is the de facto head of Myanmar. Or maybe Myanmar’s generals know, he adds – they’ve led the campaign against the Rohingya. “The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in a statement.

A steady stream of refugees is walking alongside the road, their meager belongings slung over their shoulders. They’re looking not just for food but for shelter.

Satara Begum has neither. She is squatting by the side of the road and looks lost as she cradles her 2-year-old daughter in her arms.

She had arrived just this morning, crossing the border from Myanmar. She fled after the military came to her village of Longdon Kwachon last week.

“Wednesday they burned our village, so we ran to another,” she says, speaking in Rohingya. “But the next day they burned it, to so we just kept going until we reached the river.” Her husband and two of her children were killed along the way, she says. Now it’s just the two of them.

Rain starts to fall. I ask, “Where are you going to sleep tonight?”

“We’ll stay somewhere around here,” she says. “I don’t know where. Maybe one of the families here,” she says — pointing to the makeshift camp behind her – “will take us in.” She doesn’t sound very convinced.

The camp where she’s squatting is one of dozens that have sprouted since the exodus began. Women and children wash clothes in pools of fetid brown water.

Dozens of camps have sprouted in Bangladesh since the Rohingya have begun arriving.

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Michael Sullivan / NPR

Representatives of the International Organization for Migration, other aid agencies and the Bangladesh government are trying to make things better. Vaccinations against measles, rubella and polio are being planned — 350 shots on Sunday, 400 on Monday, says government health assistant Bibhu Gharan. 400 yesterday. And on Tuesday, he predicts 500 shots. “They’re coming and coming, the refugees.”

Does he think they’ll stop?

“They’ll not stop,” he answers.

Which is why health officials can’t stop either. Cholera is another concern. Because of the sheer number of refugees, Bangladesh is granting access to aid groups that the groups would not have had just months ago. That’s because Bangladesh is realizing that it just can’t cope and that the international community needs to step in. And not just for the short-term but to find permanent homes for the refugees, too.

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Around The World In Not Quite 80 Days, Cyclist Smashes Record

Mark Beaumont poses with his Guinness World Records in Paris Monday after cycling for 79 days around the world.

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Seventy-eight days, 14 hours and 40 minutes of pure pedaling around the globe gave Mark Beaumont a new world record Monday, besting the former record of 123 days.

“This has been, without doubt, the most punishing challenge I have ever put my body and mind through,” Beaumont said upon completing the journey in Paris, reports the BBC. “The experience has been incredible, and I’m excited to share this journey for years to come.”

He also won a second Guinness title for the most ground covered in a month on a bike, from Paris to Perth at 7,031 miles, says the BBC.

The 34-year-old Scotsman began in Paris on July 2, cycling over 18,000 miles of diverse terrain, across Europe to Mongolia, over China, traversing Australia, across North America and back through Western Europe (hopping flights over the ocean portions, of course.) See the map of his route here.

Sometimes the conditions and the climate were punishing. Beaumont breathed in smoke from North American forest fires and powered through freezing temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere, ice forming on his jacket.

He covered 240 miles a day in about 16 hours.

Beaumont burned 9,000 calories each day of the trek. He told VisitScotland.com that gels and sports bars wouldn’t cut it and he tried to refuel with around 40 grams of protein per meal, along with sufficient carbohydrates and fat. Moroccan lamb, spaghetti bolognese and smoothies were all on the menu.

Still Beaumont’s body was feeling the burn from all that exercise. “As you can imagine the legs and backside and neck and all the bits which have been abused were grumbling,” Beaumont told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph toward the end of the journey.

Officially made it around the world in 78 days,14hrs & 40 mins. Thx to all the supporters and support teams. https://t.co/fp8LxjnSCQ#80days

— Mark Beaumont (@MrMarkBeaumont) September 18, 2017

But Beaumont was lucky to have evaded major injury. “To pull off something like this requires a huge amount of suffering and hurting but I am not injured and that is the important part,” he told the Telegraph.

That is not to say Beaumont completed the challenge unscathed. While in Russia, a pothole sent him flying, resulting in a broken tooth and a fractured elbow.

“It was a pretty awful moment and it is one of the only times during my ride when I thought: is this it? Is this over?,” Beaumont told the newspaper.

Luckily his performance manager, Laura Penhaul, was able to do some “DIY dentistry,” Beaumont said and he pedaled on.

In addition to Penhaul, Beaumont’s support crew included a navigator, a bike mechanic and his mom, Una Beaumont, who’d take care of the details at base camp. A camera team stuck also with him, filming the journey for online review as well as a documentary.

An incredible achievement and two well earned @GWR titles!
Congratulations to Mark and his team#OfficiallyAmazinghttps://t.co/Hj9c8ql4o8

— Mark McKinley (@markgmckinley) September 18, 2017

Smashing records on his bicycle is well-worn ground for Beaumont. He had already set a world record of 194 days for peddling around the planet in 2008.

This time, Beaumont was inspired by Jules Verne’s classic 19th century novel Around The World In 80 Days, and had made it his own mission to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, putting his arrival in Paris Monday one day ahead of schedule.

Now that he can finally put his feet up, Beaumont told the Telegraph he is looking forward to simple pleasures. “I don’t want anything big or grand,” he said. “So I look forward to walking the dog and sleeping in a normal bed and eating a nice meal without getting pummeled with a massage at the same time.”

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'Grave Fears' After Iraq Moves More Than 1,300 Wives, Children Of ISIS Suspects

A camp where more than 1,300 women and children, all foreign nationals and believed to be relatives of Islamic State militants, were kept on the outskirts of Mosul. They have been moved by Iraqi officials, to the concern of aid agencies.

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Iraqi authorities have moved a group of more than 1,300 foreign women and children — the family members of suspected ISIS fighters — and a refugee agency is raising the alarm about their precarious situation and the specter of retribution.

“The families had been held in a camp in Kurdish-controlled territory while Iraq figures out what to do with them,” NPR’s Jane Arraf reports.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement that the women and children were transferred Sunday from south of Mosul to an area north of the city that was freed from ISIS control three months ago. The council says that it has “grave fears” for the group’s safety.

It’s not clear where, precisely, the group is now located.

“These women and children are extremely vulnerable. Regardless of what their family members may be accused of, they have a right to protection and assistance,” Julie Davidson of the NRC said in a statement.

Fighters from all over the world have joined ISIS’ ranks, sometimes bringing their wives with them. There are also cases of women traveling to marry ISIS fighters. And as ISIS loses territory, these women and children face an uncertain fate.

Iraq’s ministry of defense “says it moved 1,324 European, Asian, African and south American women and children to a camp with better facilities,” Jane reports, adding that more than half of them are Turkish.

But the aid organization does not appear convinced that the new site offers “better facilities,” and calls on “Iraqi authorities to move swiftly and clarify the status of these individuals, and offer effective guarantees of their fundamental rights.”

The NRC requests that authorities allow aid organizations to have access to the displaced families. At the previous site, Jane reports, the council had been providing the women and children with tents, food and water.

“Iraq has asked other countries to take back citizens who married ISIS fighters but haven’t committed any crimes here. It says those who committed crimes will be prosecuted,” Jane adds.

According to news reports, the families surrendered to Kurdish fighters after the recent battle for the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. Women who spoke to The Associated Press last week said they didn’t know what happened to the ISIS fighters who are their husbands.

The AP reports that a Kurdish commander, Brig. Gen. Kamel Harki, “said some of the captured fighters were handed over to Iraqi authorities while others were killed after faking their surrender and then attacking their captors.”

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Lady Gaga Reveals She Has Fibromyalgia, Postpones European Tour Dates

Singer Lady Gaga at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8.

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Last Tuesday, pop megastar Lady Gaga revealed on Twitter that she suffers from a debilitating disorder called fibromyalgia. Today, the singer shared more about her struggle on her social media, and the concert company Live Nation announced that Gaga will be postponing the European leg of her “Joanne” tour.

Gaga shared her diagnosis in advance of the premiere of Gaga: Five Foot Two, a Netflix documentary debuting on Sept. 22 which touches upon her struggles with chronic pain.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is characterized by symptoms including chronic muscle pain and often-debilitating fatigue. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 5 million American adults have fibromyalgia — and between 80 and 90 percent of those affected are women.

Patients also experience a variety of other challenges, including sleep disruption, headaches, intolerance to medications and abdominal, bowel and bladder issues. Many patients also report suffering from “fibro fog,” which affects short-term memory.

In our documentary the #chronicillness#chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it.

— xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) September 12, 2017

Frustratingly, the cause of fibromyalgia is currently unknown, though it is thought to be due to a variety of coexisting factors, including possible genetic mutations, infections or illnesses, and physical or emotional trauma that together either trigger or aggravate the condition.

Moreover, there is no cure. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “No one treatment works for all symptoms.” Patients are generally encouraged to pursue self-care strategies including physical therapy, yoga, meditation and eating well; there are also medications that many patients find effective in addressing certain symptoms related to fibromyalgia.

In a series of tweets posted last week, Gaga elaborated a bit upon her current treatment, and added: “I ask for your grace and understanding, and promise that I will come back and perform for you soon.”

In the past, Gaga has been open and vocal about various challenges that she faces. Last December, she posted an open letter in which she shared that she has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; in 2014, during an interview with Howard Stern, she addressed having been raped at age 19.

In all, 18 performances in Europe, starting Sept. 21 in Barcelona and ending on Oct. 28 in Cologne, Germany have been postponed. As of now, Gaga’s next set of shows in the U.S. , beginning Nov. 5 in Indianapolis and lasting through Dec. 18 in Inglewood, Calif., are scheduled to go on as planned.

This morning, Gaga posted a longer open letter to her social media about her health. She wrote that “trauma and chronic pain” are keeping her from living normally and working as an artist. But she added that she is working closely with her doctors so that she can get back to what she plans to doing for the next “60 years or more”: performing for her fans.

I have always been honest about my physical and mental health struggles. Searching for years to get to the bottom of them. It is complicated and difficult to explain, and we are trying to figure it out. As I get stronger and when I feel ready, I will tell my story in more depth, and plan to take this on strongly so I can not only raise awareness, but expand research for others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference. I use the word “suffer” not for pity, or attention, and have been disappointed to see people online suggest that I’m being dramatic, making this up, or playing the victim to get out of touring. If you knew me, you would know this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a fighter. I use the word suffer not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life. They are also keeping me from what I love the most in the world: performing for my fans. I am looking forward to touring again soon, but I have to be with my doctors right now so I can be strong and perform for you all for the next 60 years or more. I love you so much.

A post shared by xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) on Sep 18, 2017 at 12:01am PDT

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A Week After Irma, Florida Families Still Living In The Dark

Nancy and Christian Schneider live in the Holly Lake Mobile Home park, where they haven’t had electricity in their home since Hurricane Irma struck Florida over a week ago.

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For the past nine days, Nancy Schneider has circled the date on her calendar, pinned up on the wall in her kitchen. She’s tracking how long she and her husband have been without power since Hurricane Irma hit Florida.

Last Monday, two-thirds of the state — more than 6.5 million customers — were without power. Crews have worked aggressively since then to restore as many homes and businesses as possible but, more than a week after the storm came ashore, around 400,000 people are still without power.

In the Holly Lake Mobile Home park where Nancy and her husband Christian live, there are blocks of houses that have power. She says it’s “disheartening” that “less than a football field away there’s power, but we’re here standing in the dark.” Their neighborhood in Pembroke Pines, north of Miami, backs up against the Everglades. When we walk a block from their house — to check on their older neighbors — it’s clear that the combination of heavy winds and tall trees have done some damage to the power lines.

At the Holly Lake Mobile Home park some blocks have electricity while other don’t.

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The heat is their biggest concern — temperatures in South Florida have been in the 90s this week. A neighbor lent them a generator a few days ago — so they’ve been using that to power their fridge and fans — bringing the temperature down to the high 80s from above 100. Christian is thinking he might unplug the fridge for a few hours so he can watch some television — maybe catch up on the news they’ve been living, but not watching, for the past week.

“You don’t realize until you lose electricity that that basically runs your life, you want to make coffee in the morning. You can’t. No laundry, no hot showers,” Nancy says. “It’s like living in the 1700s.”

Nancy sits in the kitchen lit by one candle deciding whether to try and make food in the dark, or just go to bed.

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Every morning they start the day the same, with a call to Florida Power and Light. On a recent visit, we sit at their kitchen table — lit up only by candlelight and try the number again. There’s no update. Maybe tomorrow, Nancy says with a sigh.

FPL said in press conferences last week that residents do not need to call in outages because their system is equipped to detect them. The company also says it prioritized restoring power to critical functions like hospitals and will now “keep working through the night until we’re done.”

“So many unknowns, and to me that’s the hardest part — not knowing,” Nancy says.

One thing she does know: Broward County schools are reopening this week. Nancy is a special education teacher, so even without power at home, she has to report to work. “I guess I’ll just be getting ready for work in the dark,” she tells me. She walks over to the bathroom with a flashlight, to see if she’ll have enough light to do makeup in the morning. She holds up the light to her face. She’s not convinced — laughing that she looks like she’s about to tell a ghost story, rather than put on some mascara.

Generators hum loudly through the night at Holly Lake and provide a small amount of light as seen in the neighbors window.

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The couple hopes this is their last hurricane season — they’ve just bought a big old house in Western Pennsylvania. They think the biggest weather they’ll have to deal with now is some snow — and really, after Andrew, Wilma and Irma — Nancy and Christian aren’t worried. After all, they tell me, snowstorms don’t even have names.

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