Amazon Pitch: Benefits of Boston, But No Hassles

An Amazon Books retail store in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By J.D. Capelouto
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was also published in The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — A good quality of life. Low housing prices. A few dozen miles from the state’s capital.

That’s how communities in and around the Merrimack Valley are pitching themselves to be the site of Amazon’s second headquarters: all the benefits of Boston and other large cities, without the congestion and high costs.

Officials overseeing four different local bids said they feel their communities could serve Amazon’s needs, but if anywhere in Massachusetts gets chosen, it would feel like a win.

“We have pretty much everything they’re looking for. We have the road system, rail station and airport,” said Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, whose city houses two prospective Amazon sites.

“We have the same amenities I think Boston does, with the college and universities, with the growing arts community here.”

The tech and retail giant, based in Seattle, announced last month plans to expand and open a second headquarters in another American city. This sparked a bidding war among hundreds of cities that submitted proposals, which were due Oct. 18.

Amazon received 238 applications for the so-called “HQ2,” which is expected to eventually bring 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion investment to the winning city. Almost 30 of those applications came from the Bay State.

Lowell, Billerica and Tewksbury, the “Middlesex 3,” submitted a regional bid centered around an existing facility at Riverview Business Park in Billerica, with two other smaller sites available.

“My belief is we can be competitive,” Rob Anderson, Billerica’s community development director, said.

Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Andover and North Andover proposed a Lower Merrimack Valley headquarters at Osgood Landing in North Andover with satellite facilities in the other communities. Their proposal was wedding-themed, complete with the slogan “let’s get merri’d.”

Leominster is ready to offer five parcels — a mix of public and private — to Amazon.

It has 457 acres, infrastructure ready, available.

In Worcester, the second largest city in New England, the local government proposed a space on Route 20, Petty said. In the state’s official bid to Amazon, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration also offered downtown Worcester as a potential site.

Amazon said it is looking to put its HQ2 site in a metropolitan area that has more than one million people and the ability to attract strong technical talent. The company also wants to have easy access to an international airport, mass transit and highways.

“We have all of the advantages that every other place in Massachusetts has,” Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini said, specifically noting the state’s strong education system and prestigious colleges.

The leaders of the local bids mentioned their proximity to Boston — many residents commute to the capital daily — as well as their access to Boston Logan International Airport and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Amazon could also use Lawrence Municipal Airport, which is located next to Osgood’s Landing in North Andover, Fiorentini said.

“Executives could get off the plane in Manchester or Boston and fly right into the site,” Fiorentini said.

And the access to highways, Petty said, makes the smaller cities feasible options for Amazon.

Many large corporations already are based in these areas, which makes their environments business-friendly and ready for Amazon, their bids said.

Every Brooks Brothers suit is manufactured at Southwick in Haverhill, Fiorentini said. And the Middlesex 3’s bid boasted Kronos, Inc., as another major company that recently relocated to Lowell. Leominster’s proposal pitches the city as a historic New England town with a rich history in the plastics industry.

One of the state’s strongest attributes, the proposals said, is its strong workforce and colleges.

“What Amazon wants is, they want brains,” Fiorentini said. “That’s where you have the Massachusetts education system and you have the Ivy League. I think Massachusetts does have a shot at this.”

Amazon said available tax credits will be “significant factors in the decision-making process.” Massachusetts is prepared to offer major tax incentives to Amazon through the Economic Development Incentive Program, according to its proposal, though it did not mention a specific figure.

Fiorentini said he has “mixed feelings” about it.

“A big company like Amazon ought to be able to pay its own way without tax incentives,” he said. “But I have to be practical. I’m a mayor. I want 50,000 jobs in our community.”

None of the local cities hit the desired population mark of one million people in their city limits or neighboring communities. But if commuters from Greater Boston are included, the state’s proposal noted, all of the smaller municipalities easily clear one million.

Massachusetts’ proposal to Amazon did not favor any site; Baker’s administration included 26 locations that were submitted.

“As a state we should keep our options open with Amazon,” Petty said, expressing his support for the governor’s plan. “That’s a good deal, that’s a good proposal.”

Greg Chapdelaine, the purchasing agent for the city of Leominster, agreed, saying it opens the door for smaller communities like Leominster to “get something out of it.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg suggested in an interview on Boston Herald Radio last month that he would support a statewide headquarters model, with one home base and satellite campuses throughout the Commonwealth.

That sentiment is shared by several leaders of the local bids. If Boston is chosen as a finalist, Fiorentini said, “We will immediately say to Amazon, ‘Come look at us as a subsidiary site.’ ”

Boston primarily offered up Suffolk Downs in East Boston, citing its proximity to Logan Airport, single owner and readiness for development. The city also listed three alternate locations throughout the city where the company could call home.

The race for HQ2 is steeped with competition from around the continent (cities in Canada and Mexico also bid). In addition to Boston, major cities like Atlanta, Dallas and Denver are considered early frontrunners by experts and gambling websites.

But the local municipalities see their proposals as win-win situations.

“We’ll see what happens, and even if we aren’t successful in getting Amazon, we’ll still have a package to use for other quests as we go forward,” Lowell Mayor Ed Kennedy said.

Chapdelaine said it cost Leominster less than $600 to put its bid together and send it.

“Maybe it gets them thinking,” he said. “We just may get lucky.”

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