As Massachusetts — and the rest of North America — awaits Amazon’s much-anticipated decision in 2018 on where to locate a so-called second headquarters, the Baker administration this week released a behind-the-scenes look at how the state crafted its pitch to lure the retail giant.
State officials released more than 4,400 pages of internal e-mails, in response to public records requests from the Globe and other news outlets, that provide a detailed look at the six-week sprint from Sept. 7, when Amazon announced its headquarters search, until Oct. 19, when bids were due.
Many of the documents deal with divvying up labor, deflecting press queries, and draft upon draft of what would become a 182-page pitchbook titled “Revolution Massachusetts” (originally titled “Transform Massachusetts.”) But they also contained some juicy nuggets about the chase, things even close observers wouldn’t have known that shed light on the ways Massachusetts woos big companies. Here are a few highlights.
Always ask the name of the dog: Like most big economic development projects these days, the chase for Amazon had a code name. Project Rufus. Who’s Rufus? Rufus was a corgi belonging to an early Amazon chief engineer who brought the dog to work each day and helped inspire the company’s famously dog-friendly culture. Rufus died in 2009, but he lives on at Amazon’s website and, apparently, on Beacon Hill.
Baker wanted Bezos. He wound up with Carney: Early on, Governor Charlie Baker hoped to schedule a phone call with Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos to tout the state directly to the boss. He didn’t get one. He did, though, talk with Jay Carney, White House press secretary under President Obama and now senior vice president for corporate affairs at Amazon. And there were other talks. The state’s economic development secretary, Jay Ash, and his aides spoke and e-mailed several times with Amazon’s head of worldwide economic development. She responded within 10 minutes to Ash’s first message to Amazon’s HQ2 e-mail address and personally confirmed receipt of the Massachusetts bid on deadline day.
“Get me the governor!” Amazon had barely announced the search before developers were reaching out to offer their property. In less than two hours, HYM Investment Group’s chief, Tom O’Brien, had e-mailed Baker and Ash, noting how East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, which his firm now owns, “is perhaps the only Massachusetts site” that fits Amazon’s needs. He spoke with Ash later that day. Meanwhile, lobbyists for Union Point in Weymouth repeatedly tried to arrange sitdowns for that huge site’s developers with Ash and his aides. Developers pitched sites at South Station and in the Seaport, and a top executive at Boston Properties proposed an “Amazon River” of nine 30-story buildings built atop the Massachusetts Turnpike from Back Bay Station to Harrison Avenue. That ambitious plan didn’t make the final bid.
Who wrote in support, and who didn’t: The Baker administration made a big push for letters of support from the state’s business community. And they rolled in. GE and State Street, Harvard University and MIT, the Red Sox and the Bruins all sent letters. Patriots owner Bob Kraft and retired Raytheon chairman Bill Swanson headlined a letter signed by more than 30 local chief executives. But a few big names declined to participate. They include Fidelity Investments, which has operations in numerous states pursuing Amazon — it worried that “public support for one state could be misinterpreted as a vote of no confidence in another,” a lobbyist wrote — along with Gillette and the online retailer Wayfair, a big Amazon competitor.
Gay marriage? Yes. Guns? No: State aides writing the pitch used every chance they could to remind Amazon of the good “cultural fit” awaiting the company and its employees in Massachusetts. Their pitch made sure to promote the state’s deep bench of immigrant entrepreneurs and its first-in-the-nation legalization of same-sex marriage (noting, too, in an internal bio of Bezos that he donated $2.5 million to back a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington in 2012). On other cultural markers, though, they were more cautious. An early draft that talked up the opportunity to “hike and hunt in the Blue Hills” drew this edit from an adviser: “You can hunt in the Blue Hills? Wow, you can! But maybe we should highlight mountain biking instead?” Later versions read “hike and mountain bike,” though eventually the Blue Hills bit was dropped entirely.Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.