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State agency sets aside $200,000 to help chase Amazon

“Our job is to get Amazon excited about Massachusetts,” said Jay Ash, chairman of MassDevelopment’s board.Pat Greenhouse

The Baker administration is getting serious about the quest for Amazon’s second headquarters.

The board of MassDevelopment — the state’s quasipublic development finance agency — has voted to increase its contract with consulting firm VHB Inc. by up to $200,000 for a technical analysis to support what MassDevelopment calls a “significant current site selection effort.”

Jay Ash, Governor Charlie Baker’s economic development chief and the chairman of MassDevelopment’s board, confirmed that the effort is aimed at Amazon, which said last week it plans to build a second corporate office that could grow to be as large as its current headquarters in Seattle. That announcement sent state and city officials across the country scurrying to come up with their best proposals by the Oct. 19 deadline Amazon set.


“I’m pulling my team together right now so we can be responsive to the Amazon” request for proposals, Ash said.

About a dozen Massachusetts communities have expressed interest in competing for the Amazon headquarters, he said. Ash expects several of them — not just one particular site — to be included in the final submission that the state submits to Amazon.

“Our job is to get Amazon excited about Massachusetts, and one of the exciting things about Massachusetts is the diversity of assets we have here,” Ash said. “The diversity includes sites. It includes talent. It includes ecosystems. And so it would be presumptuous of us to assume that we could predict what Jeff Bezos and his team at Amazon wants in a particular site.”

Properties in New Bedford and in Weymouth are being considered, as well as a joint bid from Haverhill, Lawrence, and North Andover. Boston and Revere leaders appear to be rallying behind Suffolk Downs, the 161-acre racetrack that straddles the border between those cities.

“What we don’t know is if they will want to locate everything in one community, or will they think about multiple communities,” Ash said. “One of the assets that we have here in Massachusetts is how compact we are. Even when I have to make the long treks out west, it’s not like driving through Texas.”


House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Baker brought up the Amazon hunt Monday at the weekly meeting that Baker, DeLeo, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg hold to discuss state issues.

DeLeo endorsed Suffolk Downs as a good site for Amazon during a speech to the Revere Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. But DeLeo, whose hometown of Winthrop is close to the track, said he’s open to legislation that would include financial incentives to draw Amazon to the state regardless of the location. Amazon says its second headquarters could generate as many as 50,000 jobs.

“When you’re talking about that many jobs, it’s hard not to be excited about it,” DeLeo said. “Although GE was a wonderful win for the state, this could be something that’s even bigger and truly transforming in terms of our business community.”

MassDevelopment said some of the new money allocated for VHB on Thursday could be used for other real estate-related efforts at the agency.

“What we’ve said to communities is even if it doesn’t work out for you in the ‘Amazon Challenge,’ the exercise is a good exercise,” Ash said. “If we’re successful in bringing Amazon to Massachusetts, the spinoff benefits will be multiple. Even communities that aren’t hosting Amazon will see some sort of benefit.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.