Cautious, confident, desperate, big-thinking, self-doubting, small-minded. In cities and states across New England and North America, residents learned something about their local governments on Thursday, as scores of them submitted bids to lure Amazon’s new corporate headquarters. The applicants ranged from ambitious small towns with seemingly pie-in-the-sky visions, to struggling cities throwing a Hail Mary, to established commercial centers with play-it-safe proposals. One of them will win; the rest have gone through a revealing exercise in how they think about their present and future.
Amazon says its headquarters will eventually employ 50,000 workers, and take millions of square feet of office space. That’s a jolt of new people, energy, tax revenue, and prominence that almost any city would welcome.
New Jersey, for instance, sees an opportunity — and a need — for a rescue plan: It poured tax breaks into a proposal to bring the company to Newark. Missouri, pitching a civic moon shot, wants the company to consider a Hyperloop. Detroit, which seems to see the bid as a chance to rebrand and reposition itself post-bankruptcy, submitted an international bid with the neighboring Canadian city of Windsor.
Other cities chose not to bid at all, and those decisions were telling, too. Little Rock, Ark., decided not to apply because of its poor mass transit and airport, and then took out a newspaper ad to explain why: “It’s not you. It’s us.” The mayor of San Antonio also withdrew, saying it didn’t want to participate in a “bidding war amongst states and cities.”
Boston and Revere bid jointly, and their proposal ought to be highly competitive. The cities proposed bringing the headquarters to the 161-acre Suffolk Downs property, which fits many of Amazon’s criteria. The cities offered no specific financial incentives, just a prized location on public transit and near the airport. It’s not full of tax breaks or long-shot schemes, but it didn’t need to be. It’s a realistic, non-gimmicky bid, and Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston and Mayor Brian Arrigo of Revere should be applauded for it.
Other communities in Massachusetts are also submitting bids, including Leominster, Worcester, Weymouth, Lynn, and New Bedford. The bids are good news for these cities, showing they have a vision and the wherewithal to plan for their future.
And then there’s New Hampshire.
In a bid document punctuated with cheap shots and typos, the state played up its proximity to Massachusetts schools and transit, while reminding Amazon it won’t have to pay the Massachusetts taxes that make those qualities possible. “All of the benefits of Boston without all the headaches,” it crows. It took some real chutzpah to tout the possibility of MBTA commuter rail service — something New Hampshire has consistently declined to fund.
How sad that on a week when communities across North America put forward their highest hopes and aspirations, New Hampshire’s cramped vision for itself as a freeloader off its neighbor’s investments was all that it had to offer.