With its radically open bidding process for its second headquarters, Amazon is doing to economic development what it did to retail.
Amazon, the company that disrupted bookselling and then the selling of most everything else, has thrown economic development agencies for a loop with the bidding to host their second headquarters. From the start, Amazon’s process has been out in the open — so open, in fact, that Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash learned about the opportunity not from a meeting or administrative channels, but from a newspaper headline.
That’s a far cry from the last big corporate headquarters that Ash helped lure to Massachusetts. The deal to bring General Electric to Boston was conducted quietly behind closed doors. No one outside of a handful of city and state officials knew about GE, or even that GE was looking to move, until the deal was close to complete. “Typically what happens,” Ash told the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, “is that somebody in a suit and tie makes an appointment with me and makes me sign 12 forms before they tell me what they are up to.”
There have been critics of that deal, and Boston voters in a recent WBUR poll were split on the tax breaks the city and state gave to GE. But by working behind closed doors, at least Boston officials were able to hammer out a deal without tipping their hand to other potential hosts.
By announcing their intentions widely and loudly, Amazon turned the tables on economic development officials. The HQ2 process has played out more like the competition to host an Olympic Games than a corporate headquarters, with city’s making big announcements and headline-grabbing gestures. Tuscon, Arizona sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a 21-foot cactus. The Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers lit themselves Amazon orange in support of the bid.
Closer to home, Worcester, which has an annual city budget of $630 million, pledged $500 million in tax breaks. New Hampshire, meanwhile, trashed its southern neighbors in its bid, pitching itself as “having all the benefits of Boston without the headaches.”
Before the cacti and the cash and the trash talking, at least, Boston voters were on board with the city throwing its hat in. Two-thirds in the WBUR polls favored Boston bidding for HQ2; only 20 percent were opposed. A new WGBH poll also finds the prospect very popular. As on GE, they were split on whether the city should offer tax breaks, and by a 2-to-1 margin they wanted the bid made public. On that last point voters got their wish.
And so Boston finds itself in a no-holds-barred financial bidding war, with all its cards on the table. To beat out other cities, which Boston voters want, the city is under pressure to give Amazon more than other cities are willing to, which may amount to more than voters will stomach. And all this will unfold under the withering glare of a media spotlight, and countless tens of people on Twitter.
Public officials are walking a tightrope. They have to put their best foot forward while everyone is watching, knowing full well FOIA requests are coming and the public is waiting for a mistake. But they also need to come out fighting if they want a chance in the continent-wide hunger games Amazon has set off.
All this radical transparency may align with voters’ expressed desires, but the net effect is to tilt the process in favor of Amazon and against the bidders. There is no room for negotiation or nuance when every offer is being scrutinized in real-time.
Throwing things completely open may have already hurt Massachusetts. There are multiple cities and regions pursuing separate and overlapping bids, and the state’s own bid lists 26 different sites, from A to Z. That could be a smart way to hedge bets and give Amazon options. Or it could cause Amazon to pass over the tangle of Bay State bids entirely – but not until after cherry picking the best incentives to demand from its eventual host.
Amazon will likely have dozens of competing bids to sift through and compare. All that information gives it tremendous power to find the best deal. What Amazon has delivered to its customers shopping online it’s now figured out how to get for itself shopping for a new home.
— Hannah Chanatry and Rich Parr
MPG ICYMI: We have a podcast!
MPG’s new podcast, The Horse Race, is five episodes in, covering everything from the Boston mayor’s race, to the Third Massachusetts Congressional District, to special elections and Massachusetts trivia. In today’s episode, “One For the Money,” Democratic campaign fundraising guru and MassINC board member Sean Curran walks us through the newly released third-quarter FEC reports, and MPG president Steve Koczela plugs the plethora of polling in Massachusetts.
With the State Senate debating criminal justice reform next week, it’s worth looking back at our polling on the issue, which found very low support for mandatory minimum sentences.
Our Boston mayoral poll for WBUR found a bit of a contradiction: Mayor Marty Walsh has a commanding lead, but voters are less than satisfied with many issues facing the city. The cost of housing topped voters’ list of issues, but crime and transportation were also seen as problems.
A new WGBH poll found that despite major concerns such as housing costs, likely voters enjoy living in Boston; 91 percent of voters would recommend their neighborhood to a friend, and 84 percent believe Boston to be a place “where hopes and dreams can be achieved for people like me.” The poll also echoes our mayoral race findings for WBUR.
Gallup’s three-day rolling average finds Trump’s disapproval at 59 percent, approval at 36 percent.
Gallup also finds Congress at its lowest approval level since July 2016. Independents in particular (10 percent approval) have soured on Congress over the course of this year.
A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll finds 46 percent of voters think the media fabricates stories about the Trump administration.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds 64 percent of Americans say sexual harassment is a major problem; that’s a jump of 17 points since 2011. The poll also finds 54 percent of women say they’ve received inappropriate advances inside and outside their workplace; 58 percent of women who have experienced workplace harassment say they did not notify a supervisor to the incident.
HuffPost Pollster also did a post-Weinstein poll, finding that three-quarters of Americans think workplace harassment is a serious problem.
An early October Quinnipiac poll finds support for gun control at an all time high: 60/36 percent. Voters also support a ban on modifications that make semi-automatic weapons fire at automatic rates; this includes 67/29 percent in households that have a gun.
An October report released by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Massachusetts has the highest percentage of inmates in the country over the age of 55.
A new Washington Post/UMass Lowell poll puts data behind a phenomenon we’ve all observed: sports fans can get a little…intense. The poll finds 35 percent of respondents yell at the television when watching sporting events most or all of the time.
Also in sports: TheUpshot finds Donald Trump’s flap with the NFL has turned the league into a deeply divisive brand almost overnight.
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