Search teams from Amazon are back out on the road, kicking the tires at potential sites for its hotly contested second headquarters.
But not in Boston.
People familiar with the region’s bid to woo Amazon’s second home said the team working on the search has not been back here — at least not that they know of — since an initial visit in March after Boston and Somerville were jointly named one of 20 finalists for “HQ2” and the 50,000 jobs it promises to bring. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Amazon has recently made second visits to sites in Chicago, New York City, and Newark.
What that means is not clear.
Amazon is still saying little about its search, and a spokesman declined to comment Monday, aside from reiterating that the e-commerce giant plans to choose a site by year’s end. But the Journal report, and a story Thursday in the New York Times, both said the company is still considering a number of its 20 finalist cities, including some that have not received a second visit. That has some observers of the process cautioning against jumping to conclusions.
“I’ve seen a lot of commentary in the media that it must mean these cities they visited have a leg up,” said Katie Culp, president of KSM Location Advisors, a site selection consulting firm in Indianapolis. “I think that’s flawed.”
The company’s visit may have gone unnoticed in other cities, Culp and other observers said, or Amazon may believe it has already collected all the information it needs on some of the favorites. For instance, the company’s real estate teams have thoroughly scouted Boston as part of the company’s ongoing expansions in the Seaport District and Kendall Square. And Amazon representatives toured Suffolk Downs — the centerpiece of Boston’s bid — when they were here in March.
Still, the lack of a second visit, or any other public mentions of Boston — which from the start has been considered a top contender for HQ2 — contributes to a growing sense among people who watch these things that the retail giant may be setting up its second home somewhere else. Most analysts, these days, peg Northern Virginia as the favorite, thanks to its ample workforce, proximity to Washington, D.C., decision-makers and Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos’ growing ties in the region.
On Beacon Hill, state officials say they’ve heard little from Amazon about HQ2 in recent months. When asked Friday about the status of Massachusetts’s bid, Governor Charlie Baker didn’t reveal much. “We haven’t been told that we’re not in the mix any more,” he said.
At City Hall, officials said they’re keeping in touch with Amazon’s HQ2 team. Economic development director John Barros said he sent a note praising the company’s recent decision to offer a $15 minimum wage to all employees.
But they also acknowledged they talk more often with the team plotting Amazon’s 2,000-person expansion in the Seaport, which is separate from HQ2 and set to break ground soon.
“We remain excited about the prospect of partnering with Amazon, particularly after they continue to show real investment in their workers and real thoughtfulness about some of the issues that are important to Boston,” Barros said. “We’ve had conversations about a bunch of things.”
To be clear, the lack of public conversation is not unique to Boston. Only a few cities in the running have acknowledged much of a back-and-forth with Amazon, and some continue to treat all but the vaguest details of their HQ2 proposals — which were submitted about a year ago — as though they are state secrets.
That makes it hard for residents in potential HQ2 cities to think through what hosting Amazon’s second headquarters might look like, said Joe Parilla, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has been following the search. With a decision looming — Amazon has said it will come this year — there won’t be much time to analyze the effect on housing and transportation, or weigh the value of 50,000 Amazon jobs against whatever subsidies its takes to win them.
“We’re not exactly sure what those tradeoffs will look like. We’re kind of left to hope,” Parilla said. “People are quite cynical about this whole thing, probably for good reason.”