When Amazon asked for proposals from cities and states interested in hosting the online retailer’s second headquarters, the invitation included this stipulation: Just one bid per metro area, please.
But the Baker administration is showing no signs of picking a favorite. There’s likely to be at least 10 bids from Massachusetts by Thursday’s deadline — and state officials say they’ll support all of them.
Boston’s proposal will include multiple sites within the city limits. There will likely be separate pitches from New Bedford and Fall River, for example. And some towns are expected to team up for regional pitches from other locales, such as communities from the Merrimack Valley and the South Shore.
The question is: Will this range make Massachusetts more or less attractive to Amazon?
“We will have some good applications from metropolitan Boston, but we will not have one application from metropolitan Boston,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “That probably hurts us.”
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone believes a regional approach is best. The bid he’s put together includes sites in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston, roughly along the MBTA’s Orange Line. The goal is to leverage the assets — such as the talented workforce — in all three cities.
“We’re not miles apart here,” Curtatone said. “We see our entire region as incredible opportunity.”
While Somerville officials talked with their counterparts in Boston and Cambridge in prepping their bid, neither city is formally joining the proposal.
Unlike Massachusetts, some other states are taking a more unified approach to the effort to land Amazon. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has backed a bid in Newark over others in the state, while Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a joint proposal in Chicago. Bids in Denver and Southern Californiaare being spearheaded by regional economic development groups.
It’s unclear what will be included in the first round of bids, including any financial incentives communities might want to offer. Several Massachusetts communities, including Boston, are expected to make details of their bids public later this week. For now, however, the Baker administration says it doesn’t plan to disclose any information about what it will submit to Amazon.
The governor defended his approach when speaking to reporters last week. He said it’s important to sell Amazon on the state’s strengths in areas such as big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics — instead of focusing on a specific property.
“The best thing we can do with respect to Amazon is to give them what I would describe as a menu of options,” he said. “Picking one site would be a huge mistake. Because if you pick one site, what you’re basically saying is, ‘It’s here or nowhere.’ ”
Eventually, however, most observers expect that Amazon will edit the list of contenders and settle on one proposal from Massachusetts for a second round of consideration. It’s possible that the state could be left off the list of finalists.
The Amazon courtship is also playing out amid the early stages of the state’s 2018 race for governor. Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is running for the Democratic nomination, already has made Baker’s approach an issue. Warren recently held a press conference to back a Worcester bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, as long as state officials pledge to build a high speed rail line that connects Boston to Worcester and Springfield. Warren’s goal: to spread the benefits of Boston’s high-tech success to other parts of the state.
“I see this as an opportunity for Amazon to work with us,” said Warren, who believes state officials should be more proactive in narrowing the choices. “ ‘God bless them, go for it,’ is not an economic strategy.”
Armando Carbonell, planning department chairman at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, said multiple bids shouldn’t hurt the state’s competitiveness. “If they come from places that are of interest [to Amazon], they’re going to look at it,” Carbonell said. “It’s pretty clear why Boston would be on most people’s short list. But Worcester and Lowell should be considered realistic candidates as well, with some different advantages, including less expensive housing prices.”
If Boston business leaders are worried that the Baker administration is hurting the city’s chances, they’re not showing it.
Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said presenting an array of options may actually help Massachusetts because the company left room for interpretation. “If they wanted a suburban campus, they would have said it,” he said. “If they wanted an urban, downtown, Seattle-like program, they would have said it.”
Dan O’Connell, chief executive of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership — a group of high-powered CEOs — said he expects to learn more about what Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has in mind once the company narrows the list.
“I think we’re wise to put a series of options in front of Amazon [at this stage],” said O’Connell, whose group has agreed to assist the state with its proposal.
A similar tension emerged during the Baker administration’s courtship of General Electric in 2015. State officials initially decided to show GE a range of options for its headquarters.
Steve Tocco, head of lobbying firm ML Strategies, worked on behalf of GE during that process. He said the Baker administration’s Amazon strategy is smart. “They’re selling the value of the state, the upside of Massachusetts, in presenting several options that might work,” Tocco said.