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How the Merrimack Valley won, despite losing Amazon’s HQ2 contest

Amazon wants to turn the massive Osgood Landing complex in North Andover into a distribution center.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/file 2018

When three Merrimack Valley municipalities teamed up in 2017 to try to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to an old telecom plant in North Andover, the odds of success looked long.

And they were. The region didn’t make Amazon’s short list for its so-called HQ2, let alone win the thing, which will be located just outside of Washington, D.C.

But now it looks like the e-commerce giant will also be coming in a big way to North Andover. The company is poised to open a massive distribution center at Osgood Landing, a sprawling facility along the Merrimack River near Interstate 495 that once was an AT&T manufacturing plant. It could employ 1,500 people, developers say, and serve as a northern counterpart to Amazon’s equally huge fulfillment center in Fall River.


The 1,500 warehouse jobs won’t be like the 50,000 white-collar jobs that Amazon promised in its second-headquarters competition, which drew 238 proposals from across North America. Nor will they be similar to the 2,000 six-figure tech jobs the company’s planning at a new building — the groundbreaking was this week — in Boston’s Seaport District.

Nonetheless, local officials say, it’s a big win for the three neighboring municipalities that worked together to get on Amazon’s radar screen by proposing something much bigger.

“That’s what I was hoping when we put that great pitch together,” Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said. “It could be coincidental. But I don’t think so.” The other partner in the Merrimack Valley’s HQ2 pitch was Lawrence.

Amazon doesn’t yet have much to say about the distribution center. “The company is not yet commenting on any specific operations in North Andover or Massachusetts,” a spokeswoman said in an e-mail. “Stay tuned!”

But a large-warehouse developer that Amazon often uses for distribution centers, Dallas-based Hillwood Development, does have Osgood Landing under contract, and the company has told North Andover officials it has a major e-commerce operator lined up to fill it. On Tuesday night, an Amazon official joined Hillwood executives at a meeting with town selectmen, the Eagle-Tribune reported.


There are, however, some hurdles to clear.

North Andover residents would have to approve zoning changes for the project at a special June 18 Town Meeting. Much smaller Amazon distribution centers, such as one in Braintree, have drawn pushback from neighbors worried about traffic, though North Andover selectmen were supportive at the meeting Tuesday, the Eagle-Tribune reported.

Karen Sawyer Conard, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, pointed out that Osgood Landing housed about 12,000 workers during its heyday as a manufacturing facility for Western Electric.

“We’re not daunted by this,” she said. “We know the infrastructure can support what Amazon needs to do there.”

The project would also need state environmental permits. Amazon also could seek state subsidies. Its Fall River warehouse received $3.25 million in state tax breaks, along with $11.6 million worth of local incentives.

A spokeswoman for the state’s economic development office said officials have been talking with Hillwood and Amazon about potential incentive programs, and North Andover officials suggested they may seek state funds for $7 million in sewer work that’s necessary for the project.

Regardless of whether Amazon seeks tax incentives, its greatest need is workers, said a former state economic development secretary, Jay Ash. He spearheaded HQ2 efforts for the Baker administration, which encouraged cities and towns of all sizes — not just Boston — to throw their hat in the ring. Many did, he said, and learned something about themselves in the process.


For the Merrimack Valley, he said, it was a reminder that while perhaps no one community could support a project of the size Amazon was planning, they could benefit by working together.

“Amazon’s biggest issue is: Can we get enough people to work in this facility?” said Ash, who now leads the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. “It’s in North Andover, but Lawrence is out the back window. Haverhill is right next door. It’s exciting to think about all the jobs that are going to come to all three communities with this.”

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.