Amazon Bid: It’s Good Practice


Richard Sullivan, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., was no doubt channeling his inner Mavis — as in Mavis Wanczyk, winner last month of the largest single Powerball payout in history — when he told the local press, “you have to be in the game to win.”

He was referring, of course, to a game with a different kind of huge payout — and one that also features astronomically long odds. That would be the contest to become home to Amazon’s second North American headquarters.

The prize there is considerable — maybe 50,000 jobs over the next few decades, tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, thousands of construction jobs (this is estimated to be a $5 billion project, five times the size of MGM Springfield’s initiative), and everything else that comes to being home — or one of the homes — to Amazon.

The odds of winning this contest are obviously better than those of winning Powerball (an estimated 1 in 292 million), but in many respects, not much better. Indeed, every state, every county, and most municipalities would like to get into this competition, and most of them will. And many have much more to offer that this region does.

Western Massachusetts is in the early stages of piecing together some kind of response to Amazon’s request for proposals, Sullivan told the local press, adding that there are many forms such a bid might take. The region might construct its own proposal, or it may partner with the state, or with Hartford, for example.

As with Powerball — the analogy works in many ways, so we’ll stay with it — the odds are certainly long, and it’s tempting to just not bother. But if you don’t play, you simply can’t win.

And, as Sullivan noted, the region can benefit just by submitting a proposal.

How? These exercises are good practice for a region, and in many respects, the Pioneer Valley is somewhat out of practice when it comes to such competitions.

They’re beneficial because they help a region identify its strengths and weaknesses, put them down on paper, and perhaps see where it comes up short in the competition in question and what it needs to work on.

The Amazon RFP identifies a few things the company is looking for:

• A stable and business-friendly environment (check, sort of. Massachusetts is still not exactly business-friendly, although it was friendly enough to land GE last year);

• Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent (we can’t check that one, because we haven’t shown that ability yet. The state certainly has, though); and

• Communities that, in its words, “think big and creatively when considering locations and real-estate options” (check, sort of. There has been some creative thinking, but nothing hugely imaginative and along the lines of what Amazon is probably looking for).

We don’t have a crystal ball, but it’s very likely that Amazon will choose a city or county that has, or can easily assemble, an extremely large, shovel-ready parcel; has abundant tech-savvy talent, or can easily lure it; and that has a top-shelf public transportation system and a bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

And that pretty much leaves the 413 out of this competition. But as Mavis (wherever she is) can certainly tell you, you never know, and you do have to play the game to win.

In the meantime, the region will be getting some very valuable practice and an opportunity to tell a story that is getting better with each passing year.

In other words, this is a very worthwhile exercise. v

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