Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola announced Thursday that the city will not submit a bid to be home to Amazon's second North American headquarters. Instead, it has used the occasion to launch a promotional campaign called "Love, Little Rock."
The campaign will be run by the Little Rock Regional Chamber. Jay Chesshir, the chamber's president and CEO, joined Stodola for Thursday's announcement at the Little Rock Technology Park.
The campaign began with a full-page advertisement placed in Thursday's Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The ad was written in the style of a break-up letter, with Little Rock telling Amazon that, although the city didn't meet some of Amazon's requirements for a headquarters, it would be a good fit for other businesses.
More: Read the full letter here.
The ad was punctuated by an aerial banner that Chesshir said would fly over Amazon's Seattle headquarters today. It reads, "Hey Amazon, it's not you, it's us."
"We did some pretty smart thinking about this, ultimately, in terms of our desire to compete," Stodola said. "And this is what it's all about, competing and letting the rest of the world know what a great place Little Rock is and that the people who come here truly do love Little Rock. It's a place to grow not only families but to grow companies, and we certainly have a reputation for that as well. So we've got to publicize this reputation, and that's what this is all about."
Chesshir declined to disclose how much the Post ad cost, but said the campaign didn't pay full price. He also said the "Love, Little Rock" campaign would be permanent and cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" over several years, though he didn't have an estimated annual budget to share with reporters Thursday.
Chesshir said the "Love, Little Rock" campaign was put together in nine days, after the mayor called several meetings of economic development professionals to discuss the city's Amazon bid. Stodola announced in a Sept. 12 Facebook post that the city would apply for the Amazon headquarters.
"The City along with our economic development team at the Chamber and AEDC have received the RFP and will be preparing our submission," Stodola wrote. "Amazon is looking for strong local and regional talent in software and related fields and is particularly interested in entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunity of the digital economy! Some of their requirements are challenging but I think our talent pool is deep with The Venture Center, the Tech Park, the Innovation Hub, Acxiom and Merkle and the UofA Little Rock's Emerging Analytics Center all located here in central Arkansas."
The online retail giant had announced in early September that it was seeking a site for a $5 billion complex that would employ up to 50,000 people. The company already has a headquarters in Seattle but is running out of space.
"We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We're excited to find a second home."
The announcement sent major U.S. cities scrambling to prepare their own proposals by Thursday's deadline. Little Rock had been seen as a longshot for the project; Amazon's criteria for the site included a metropolitan area of at least a million people, a large population of technology-skilled workers and close proximity to an international airport.
Chesshir said it was recognition of those shortcomings that led to the "Love, Little Rock" campaign.
"We're sitting around in a room, talking about all the reasons why we don't quite fit this project, when a guy by the name of Jonathan Semans with CDI Contractors said, 'Hey, what about going the opposite route? What about talking about what we do fit for?'" Chesshir said.
"And that literally led to the genesis of this campaign. So, today, while we may be the only city in America saying in a very nice way 'No thank you' to Amazon, instead we're having some fun with this on the national stage ..."
Little Rock advertising agency Stone Ward donated its services to get the "Love, Little Rock" campaign off the ground, Chesshir said. Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock also donated its services. The firm built the campaign's website, LoveLittleRock.org, but that work was an add-on to its existing one-year, multifaceted contract to build an economic development website for the chamber, according to co-founder and CEO Marla Johnson.
The campaign includes a video of three locals reading the city's letter to Amazon. The three are Graham Gordy, a writer and producer known for his work on the 2016 film "Quarry"; actress Paige Martin Reynolds, known for her role in the 2007 film "War Eagle, Arkansas"; and D.J. Williams, a former Razorback and co-anchor of KARK 4 Today.
Other elements of the campaign include city business marquees lit up with "Love, Little Rock," billboards donated by local companies and campaign messaging at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. Stodola also said 75-100 people would be in the campaign's "social media war room" at the Tech Park, sharing reasons to love Little Rock on Twitter and Facebook using the #LoveLittleRock hashtag.
Little Rock isn't the only city to openly spurn Amazon. San Antonio, Texas, told Bezos in an open letter earlier this month that "blindly giving away the farm isn't our style," according to The Associated Press.
Love, Little Rock Video