The Real Deal New York

Public officials push back on NDAs in wake of Amazon’s HQ2 search

Lawmakers consider bans on confidentiality agreements in economic-development deals
November 26, 2018 08:55AM

Jeff Bezos (Credit: Getty Images and Pexels)

Public officials across the country are questioning whether they’ll sign nondisclosure agreements in the future after facing some backlash surrounding the secrecy around Amazon’s HQ2 search.

It’s not uncommon for companies looking to land tax breaks and other incentives to require local officials to sign NDAs as part of economic-development deals. But as part of its high-stakes search for a second headquarters, Amazon required many of the 238 bidders to sign one-page agreements that prohibited local officials from revealing nonpublic, confidential information the company disclosed in the process, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Unfortunately that’s our world …The companies we’re dealing with are requiring us not to talk about it,” explained Jeff Finkle, president of the International Economic Development Council, a group that represents economic-development officials across the country. “If you don’t play by their rules, you lose.”

Some officials said the NDAs Amazon required them to sign looked standard, though one consultant told the Journal they stood out because they renewed after three years, whereas most NDAs last only three to five years or until a project is complete.

In some cities, private developers were required to sign NDAs. And in Indianapolis, local officials even required waitstaff and a hotel concierge to sign confidentiality forms ahead of a visit in March from Amazon executives.

Amazon pointed out that the company didn’t tell cities not to publicly disclose the details of their proposals, though many did so in order to protect their competitive advantage.

“What could you say publicly that would actually be helpful in some way, other than that we’re working on it?” said Stephen Moret, chief executive of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, who led the state’s winning bid. “Had there been no NDA, our public comments would have been the same.”

In New York, lawmakers on both the city and state levels said they plan to propose legislation that would ban public officials from signing NDAs with private corporations in economic-development deals. [WSJ] – Rich Bockmann