UT Dallas and Richardson have a higher-ed offer for Amazon HQ2

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UT Dallas and Richardson have a higher-ed offer for Amazon HQ2

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The University of Texas at Dallas and the city of Richardson are appealing to Amazon’s geeky side in their proposal for the Seattle-based technology and retail giant’s search for a second headquarters city.

UT Dallas is offering Amazon more than 100 acres of vacant land that it owns adjacent to its campus, making its research facilities, students and faculty a short walk away from a future headquarters site. Amazon said last month that it will spend $5 billion to build a new headquarters, dubbed Amazon HQ2, where it can house as many as 50,000 people it expects to hire over the next ten years.

The university is ready to create a partnership similar to what it has had with Dallas-based Texas Instruments since the university was created 48 years ago, said UT Dallas president Richard Benson. More UT Dallas graduates work for TI than from any other school. The state endowed several chairs at UT Dallas in 2004, and TI built a $3 billion facility nearby. It was the first and still the largest economic development partnership of the Texas Enterprise Fund created by former Gov. Rick Perry.

The state of Texas is expected to come up with incentives for Amazon that will be neutral to whatever city Amazon might chose in Texas.

During the 2016-17 academic year, UT Dallas awarded 2,465 bachelor’s degrees, 3.372 master’s degrees and 189 Ph.Ds The fall freshman class has 157 National Merit Scholars.

"Ninety percent of our students are in STEM and management programs. We have a strong base that aligns with Amazon," Benson said.

Ruhi Sarikaya, Amazon’s director of applied science, completed his Ph.D at UT Dallas. He currently works on the Alexa team at Amazon. UT Dallas Ph.D graduate Xianxian Zhang is also employed by Amazon, Benson said.

(UT Dallas/city of Richardson/UT Dallas/city of Richardson)

"It’s the region’s largest recurring source of talent that Amazon will need from interns to their own employees being able to walk over to continue their education," said Bill Sproull, president of the Richardson Economic Development Partnership.

Amazon HQ2 located next door to UT Dallas "will be further transform and benefit the whole region," Sproull said.

The Richardson site is located along Waterview Parkway and West Renner Road just south of the President George Bush Turnpike. The proposed Cotton Belt rail line, which will connect northern suburbs with D-FW Airport, runs through the UT Dallas site. Richardon’s site proposal includes multiple acreage and square feet of office space available around the two Richardson DART train stations at CityLine and Galatyn Park.

Mayors in the region are in agreement that they just want Amazon "to pick Texas and then North Texas," said Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker. "We want Amazon to know that Texas is a really good place to do business. The focus should be on Amazon, not on what makes sense for Dallas or Fort Worth."

Still, Voelker said, in addition to UT Dallas students, the region has a one of the largest populations of computer and software engineers. "The joke in Richardson is that the neighbor to the left of you is an electrical engineer and the one to the right of you is a software engineer," he said.

When he worked at HP, the company would send over algorithms for students to test.

UT Dallas’ Benson said the university has shown its nimbleness having created a mechanical engineering department with University of Texas at Arlington less than 10 years ago and has formed a partnership with the UT Southwestern for biomedical engineering.

It’s one of 14 universities in a program of the National Science Foundation that is researching high speed broadband. UT Dallas is offering Amazon its GENI rack with an ability to connect into its 100 gigabit capacity system.

The city of Richardson and its chamber first partnered with UTD in 2013 to join US Ignite’s Smart Gigabit Communities program to work on next-generation, high-bandwidth, low latency fiber optic network applications. It’s used in financial transactions and in health care for imagery that must be viewed in real time by physicians during complicated surgeries.

Voelker said Richardson has another advantage of being home to a highly educated bit and diverse population. "Sit around any conference room at a local technology company, and you’ll see the diversity that we have in our neighborhoods and at our restaurants."

A company like Amazon seeking global talent and future markets to grow in would find a microcosm of the global environment in Richardson," Voelker said.

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