Amazon confirmed Tuesday that it plans to hire 2,000 employees at a new facility in Seaport Square that will focus largely on developing its Alexa voice-activated technology, further cementing Boston’s place as a tech hub for the retail behemoth, and as a center for the burgeoning speech recognition and machine learning industry.
As part of the deal, the Baker administration has agreed to contribute $20 million toward transportation needs in the Seaport, such as street work, bike lanes, and a new Silver Line headhouse — funds that Seaport Square developer WS Development had previously agreed to spend — state officials said Tuesday. That’s on top of $5 million in property tax breaks from the City of Boston. Both subsidies are contingent on Amazon adding 2,000 new jobs there.
The huge expansion — with an option for the company to lease a second building to house 2,000 more employees if it decides to keep growing in the neighborhood — is the latest, and largest, in a wave of growth by major tech firms pouring into Boston. Companies ranging from homegrown Wayfair and Akamai to Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook are expanding — or planning to expand — their offices here.
But none has grown as fast as Amazon. The company opened a small office in Kendall Square in 2011 and today employs about 1,200 technology workers in Cambridge, Back Bay, and a new office in Fort Point. Its website advertises nearly 500 open jobs in Boston and Cambridge, many paying $150,000 a year or more, according to estimates posted on job-search website Glassdoor. And when a new 17-story Seaport building — leased entirely to Amazon, aside from ground-floor retail space — opens in 2021, the ranks of Amazonians in the city will be poised to double again.
“Amazon is excited to create 2,000 more jobs in Greater Boston,” said vice president Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s Boston-based head scientist for Alexa. “In just a few years, we’ve grown from a handful of software developers and scientists to a team of more than 1,200, inventing new capabilities and products on behalf of millions of customers around the world.”
The company’s fast growth in Boston and Cambridge is driven in part by its voracious overall expansion — this week, Amazon also announced it will create 3,000 new jobs in Vancouver — as well as by Boston’s talented workforce.
But it’s also a function of what Amazon does here: designing the Alexa technology behind its popular Echo smart speakers. Many of the jobs being advertised locally involve working on speech software, including positions for data experts fluent in at least one of eight separate languages. It also has large teams working on artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and robotics.
Tuesday’s news highlights the degree to which Boston’s technology strengths align with the interests of the tech giant, said Soumen Ganguly, director at consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Co.
Boston has long been a hot spot for voice technology, spawning industry stalwarts such as Nuance Communications. It’s also home to an Apple Inc. lab working on Alexa rival Siri. The region has a strong robotics business presence, with companies including iRobot. And Greater Boston’s health care dominance also fits with Amazon’s growth plans.
“It’s one of the few spots where you can find a large enough concentration of software skills, as well as some great academic institutions,” Ganguly said.
That combination has some experts touting Boston as a top contender for an even-bigger prize: Amazon’s so-called second headquarters — a massive campus, with up 50,000 jobs to complement the company’s longtime home in Seattle. In January, Boston and Somerville were listed among 20 finalists for the project, and Amazon officials visited in March to tour potential sites. The company plans to make a decision later this year.
City and state officials have shared few details of talks with Amazon about “HQ2.” But they have signaled little willingness to pony up the kind of massive subsidy package being offered by other contenders such as Maryland, and New Jersey. Some critics worry that Amazon’s second headquarters would drive up the already high cost of housing in Boston, overburden crowded roads and rail lines, and gobble up scarce labor.
Company, and city, officials have insisted that the HQ2 search is being conducted separately from the Seaport expansion. The company began looking for more office space before announcing the HQ2 project in September and was negotiating a lease with WS Development at Seaport Square — even as it requested initial data from finalists for the headquarters.
Still, real estate analysts say it’s unlikely that any company — even one as unconventional as Amazon — would put thousands of new employees in one city neighborhood even as they considered a huge corporate campus elsewhere in town, suggesting this expansion is either the start of a Seaport headquarters or a consolation prize.
Regardless of whether HQ2 comes to the Boston area, Amazon’s expansion is welcome news to city and state officials, who hailed it as further evidence of the region’s robust tech economy.
“Boston had zero Amazon jobs three years ago. In a couple of years we could have 5,000,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. “People love what’s going on in our city.”Andy Rosen and Shirley Leung of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.