Amazon’s search for prime rewards

No one ever accused Jeff Bezos of being a bad businessman. Well, maybe some when Amazon was just selling books online and wallowing in red ink in the early years. But the guy who made Amazon a household name by disrupting the entire retail industry has triggered a civil war across the country – and into Canada – by pitting city against city in a bid to win his company’s new HQ2.

In the process, Amazon could reap hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, in incentives and credits the likes of which no company has seen or government offered. That, no doubt, was the plan and it seems to be working out.

Communities large and small are jumping through hoops to attract Amazon’s planned 8 million square foot second headquarters and the estimated 50,000 jobs. It’s not just the usual suspects such as Austin, Nashville, Chicago, and New York. Places such as Lawrence, Haverhill, and North Andover are dreaming big and bonding to submit a joint bid, even asking Gov. Charlie Baker to make theirs the only Massachusetts proposal to Amazon. Good luck with that, say Boston’s boosters.

In its request for proposal for its $5 billion facility to complement its Seattle headquarters, the company set out a laundry list of requirements, including an international airport with nonstop flights to Seattle; major universities with strong tech programs; access to mass transit; a metropolitan area with at least 1 million residents; and a minimum of 100 acres to accommodate the planned 33 buildings.

Boston checks off most, if not all those boxes, as well as a few more unspoken mandates such as political harmony, more or less, and a vibrant social and community life. But, then, so do a number of other candidates such as Charlotte, Dallas, and Atlanta, not to mention neighbors to the north in Vancouver and Toronto. So it will come down to green. As in cash, even if that vulgar phrase is unspoken.

The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung, one of the city’s biggest business boosters who has rarely seen a corporate proposal she couldn’t get behind, thinks the city and state are a little too complacent about going after Amazon, resting on their laurels after attracting GE with a $145 million incentive package.

“Getting GE to relocate its headquarters to Boston from Connecticut was no small feat,” writes Leung, who says Suffolk Downs would be the perfect place. “But city and state officials shouldn’t just dust off that winning proposal and expect Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to call. This will not be your typical corporate buildout that gets sealed with a trophy tower and sizeable tax breaks.”

But Leung’s conservative colleague Jeff Jacoby calls the incentive packages “bribes” that rarely pay off in the end. And in what is likely to cause him consternation, the far left DigBoston comes to the same conclusion.

Bloomberg News reports that several upper-level Amazon executives are pushing hard for Boston because of the presence of Harvard and MIT for talent pool and research and development, but Amazon says there are no front-runners at this point. And the New York Times did an analysis of cities around the country that are viable candidates and Boston was one of the four finalists in its pretend competition, with Denver being the paper’s prediction. Some, though, may wonder who the Times is talking about when it includes the city’s affordability and ease of getting around as playing in Boston’s favor. But that’s for the naysayers.

In the end, the simple summary conclusion in Amazon’s eight-page request says it all.

“As this is a competitive Project, Amazon welcomes the opportunity to engage with you in the creation of an incentive package, real estate opportunities, and cost structure to encourage the company’s location of the Project in your state/province,” the RFP says.

In other words, “show me the money.”



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