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Now it is Charlie Baker's turn to roll the dice in the board game called Where Will Hasbro Go?
Guessing where the toy company will put its new headquarters has been a popular pastime in Rhode Island political circles for much of the past two years. Everyone seems to be looking for clues.
The Baker administration is now making its own push to persuade the company to move its Monopoly money to Massachusetts. State economic development officials have made overtures to Hasbro before about the HQ, without much luck. But there’s a new undersecretary in charge of business development, Mark Fuller. And it appears that Fuller and his boss, economic secretary Mike Kennealy, want to make a more concerted effort.
An agency spokeswoman confirmed the Hasbro recruitment initiative in a brief statement, saying, the “Massachusetts Office of Business Development is working to establish a dialogue with the company.”
Could it be too late in the game? It’s hard to tell. Much of the focus has been on Providence, for obvious reasons. Hasbro wants to consolidate its operations in Rhode Island — where it employs more than 1,500 people — in a modern office setting, one more appealing to millennials. Think Providence’s hip, urban downtown versus Hasbro’s out-of-the-way campus in Pawtucket.
The chatter has focused lately on a parking lot across from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, next to an office building that Hasbro already occupies. Another downtown lot, behind One Citizens Plaza, has also been discussed.
Then there’s the Superman building, Providence’s tallest office tower. It has sat empty for six years in a state of paralysis after Bank of America left. But Providence insiders say the outdated HVAC systems and floor plates make the art deco structure an unlikely home for Hasbro.
Local broker Mike Giuttari says the strangest option he has heard is actually on the other side of the continent: California. Hasbro has evolved from a manufacturer into a design and entertainment conglomerate. There’s some fear in town that evolution might take Hasbro to the Los Angeles area, to capitalize on “Transformers,” “My Little Pony,” and all the other TV- and movie-ready brands in the company’s toy chest. (Hasbro rival Mattel is already based out there, just outside of L.A.)
Hasbro has not publicly ruled out staying put in Pawtucket, either. When asked where the Hasbro relocation decision stands, spokeswoman Julie Duffy gave a variation on the statement that the company has been providing since mid-2017. Hasbro, she says, is evaluating “several options for contemporizing our corporate headquarters,” including a new campus near its current HQ.
Stefan Pryor, Governor Gina Raimondo’s commerce secretary, says state officials are rooting for Pawtucket. But he says the Raimondo administration’s top priority is to keep Hasbro in Rhode Island, regardless of the specific location, and is prepared to aggressively pursue Hasbro when the time is right.
That time, apparently, isn’t right now. Pryor says his agency frequently communicates with the company on various matters. But the headquarters relocation issue, he says, has not come up recently.
And so the waiting continues. One big factor could be Brian Goldner, Hasbro’s chief executive and a prominent civic leader in Rhode Island. Goldner and Raimondo are close, and it’s hard to imagine him breaking the news to the governor that Hasbro is leaving.
But what if Goldner takes a new job? His name has been mentioned as a finalist for the chief executive post at CBS after Les Moonves was forced out last year. (Goldner was appointed to the CBS board around the same time.)
If Goldner gets to make the call on the HQ decision, Baker’s economic development staff might face tough odds.
But Hasbro is a major prize, not a trivial pursuit. As with any game, you can’t win if you don’t play.