Plane speaking: Philly unions launch plea for city to be new Amazon headquarters

A small plane flew this message around Seattle Friday afternoon as the the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council attempted to increase Philadelphia's chances of being chosen for the new headquarters. (Joshua Morgan)

A small plane flew this message around Seattle Friday afternoon as the the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council attempted to increase Philadelphia's chances of being chosen for the new headquarters. (Joshua Morgan)

Philadelphia is taking its pitch to retail giant Amazon to new heights.

The Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council paid for a plane to fly around Seattle for three hours — at times passing over Amazon’s headquarters there — Friday afternoon.

Trailing behind the plane was a message for CEO Jeff Bezos: “Amazon, pick Philly! Go Seahawks, Eagles.”

The plane-powered banner was a bit of a concession, according to Frank Keel, spokesman for the labor leader  John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, who leads the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.

“We came under a little grief about rooting on the Seahawks, but we didn’t want to do anything to stick a finger in their eye when we’re trying to woo them here,” Keel said.

Some other cities among the more than 200 trying to lure Amazon’s $5 billion second headquarters are also getting creative.

Tucson, Arizona, officials sent Bezos a 21-foot cactus (it was rejected). In Stonecrest, Georgia, city officials renamed 345 acres of land “Amazon.” And now add Johnny Doc’s high-flying plea to the list of publicity stunts aimed at enticing the $500 billion company.

While the details of what kind of subsidies and other kickbacks Philadelphia is offering Amazon remain secret, announcement of a short list of front-runners is expected early next year with a decision anticipated not long after that.

Originally, Keel said, Dougherty wanted the plane-powered banner, first reported by Clout, to soar over the Seahawks’ stadium in Seattle when they play the Eagles on Sunday, yet that idea never got off the ground due to NFL regulations.

Another proposal that nosedived? Dougherty’s attempt to take out a full-page advertisement in the programs given out to fans in the stadium Sunday night.

“We were gently rebuffed by Seahawks management, because they said, ‘We here in Seattle are also in competition for the second headquarters, believe it or not, and we didn’t want to give Philadelphia any kind of competitive edge,’ ” Keel said. “We got a good laugh out of that.”

Despite two out of three proposals being shot down, Keel said he’s hopeful the high-altitude courtship of Bezos  will give Philadelphia an edge.

The construction needs generated by Amazon’s “HQ2” and its expected 50,000 jobs would be an enormous boost for the city’s unionized labor workers, Keel said.

“It is a multi-year major construction project that will keep members of Philadelphia’s building trades busy for quite some time,” he said. “You have to aggressively pursue these type of opportunities, they don’t just fall into your lap.”

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has said it is focusing on metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents that can attract technical workers. The ideal location for its second home, according to the company,  would be a “stable and business-friendly environment.”

For more on the prospect of Amazon coming to Philadelphia, check out WHYY’s series, “Amazon: Can Philly Deliver?” 

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