Business & Tech

Shirley Leung

It’s time for Boston to bring in the closer for our Amazon bid

Whether it’s robots or rockets, MIT has been at the center of cutting-edge, world-changing inventions.
Globe staff/File
Whether it’s robots or rockets, MIT has been at the center of cutting-edge, world-changing inventions.

I’m feeling underwhelmed. Bids for Amazon’s second North American headquarters are due in two weeks, and nothing from Massachusetts stands out.

What I’m seeing is a free-for-all for developers and mayors trying to fill empty spaces and earn bragging rights by landing the $5 billion project.

If we make it to the second round, it probably will be on reputation only. Have you heard? We have a lot of smart people here, and Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is looking to hire up to 50,000 of them.


Yes, this is the town that successfully wooed General Electric to move its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston. City Hall worked closely with state officials to come up with a single winning plan.

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Not this time. The Baker team isn’t ready to back one proposal — whether from Boston or elsewhere — at least not in this early round. Let’s just say that can’t be sitting well with City Hall.

But the problem isn’t the state’s desire to offer Amazon multiple options. Nor is it a paucity of good sites.

What’s lacking is an exciting marriage of real estate and our best human assets.

Imagine a pitch centered around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  More than anything, Bezos prizes innovation, and whether it’s robots or rockets, MIT has been at the center of cutting-edge, world-changing inventions.


As far as I can tell, the university doesn’t appear to be part of a bid. Is that something the school would even consider?

MIT president Rafael Reif was mum other than to say he thinks Seattle-based Amazon should build a major outpost here.

“MIT enthusiastically welcomes the prospect of Amazon coming to Massachusetts, and would support an effort to bring Amazon to the region. Together with many institutions and companies across the region, we are advancing robotics, artificial intelligence, and other areas of technology that are important to Amazon,” Reif said in a statement to The Boston Globe. “The tremendous opportunities for collaboration make the Greater Boston region an ideal location for Amazon to create its second corporate headquarters.”

If Massachusetts wants to win — not just make it to the finals — MIT needs to play a starring role in the bid. Yes, it’s in Cambridge, which means Boston would need to learn how to share.

I’m not proposing a corporate takeover of MIT. Consider this: An Amazon innovation center could be part of the Volpe site, which the university owns in Kendall Square and plans to develop into housing, offices, and lab space.


From there, Amazon could spread out to nearby North Point, where a new neighborhood is rising. The company could reach across to Sullivan Square in Charlestown, where the city and state have parcels that can be redeveloped. Just beyond is Assembly Square in Somerville, which has room for expansion.

Or an Amazon campus could flow from Kendall Square down the Red Line to South Station, which is slated for high-rise development that could support a big hub. That could also spill over to the Fort Point Channel district, where Amazon will open an office next year with 900 employees.

Now if Amazon doesn’t want to be in multiple locations, how about bringing a little bit of MIT to Amazon in the form of a satellite lab that could explore the future of everything?

I single out MIT because it is known globally for innovation, but Massachusetts could craft a pitch with similar partnerships with Harvard, Northeastern, or Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Perhaps we don’t feel like we need to be so in-your-face with what we have to offer. Everyone knows our competitive advantage is our universities and talent.

But peruse the headlines across the country, and you begin to see how other regions are upping the ante.

New Jersey lawmakers are proposing up to $5 billion in tax incentives to woo the tech giant.

A state senator who is running for governor in Maryland is calling for a $1 billion investment in public higher education. University of Texas-Dallas is inviting Amazon to take over 100 acres next to its campus to ensure a seamless pipeline of talent.

Pretty bold. What about us?

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.