The golden ticket represented by Amazon’s plan to build a second headquarters in a still-to-be identified community in the United States could remake a local economy almost overnight. The scale of the proposed operation — up to 50,000 people working over 8 million square feet of space — represents an economic addition on the order of a whole new industry coming to town.
Unfortunately it seems doubtful that such a development could happen north of Boston — and it’s not because our infrastructure isn’t good enough, our workers aren’t smart enough, our schools aren’t rigorous enough, or our pride in our communities isn’t deep enough. The problem is one of vision and lack of regional thinking, particularly when it comes to local leaders setting aside parochial differences and marshaling their energy and resources behind a common cause.
If you’ve followed the border war simmering between Methuen and a handful of neighboring Merrimack Valley communities, you’ll understand.
The rift began, ironically enough, with a common idea. Like community leaders throughout the United States, a few local officials were captivated by Amazon’s call for proposals to build its second headquarters. The company wants to be near a city — it is looking for access to a population center and a major airport, much like its headquarters in Seattle — but it leaves open the possibility of locating in the suburbs. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 19.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini jumped at the opportunity, with the idea of working together with leaders from Lawrence and North Andover. Give credit to Fiorentini — he clearly recognized that a proposal of this nature requires the effort of multiple cities and towns. Unfortunately, the spirit of inclusiveness stopped somewhere near the Methuen border, at least initially, creating ill will with Mayor Stephen Zanni.
Methuen will pursue a proposal of its own, its mayor has said, describing himself as “disappointed” to be left out of the plan that includes Haverhill, Lawrence, North Andover and now Andover. Fiorentini’s subsequent attempt to mend fences and broaden the proposal to include Methuen was “a little late,” Zanni said.
With all of that happening in the background, one wonders how much attention any proposal from this group would get from Amazon’s leaders. The north of Boston suburbs could indeed be a great landing place for Amazon, but early infighting doesn’t bode well for times when more difficult questions — doubtless there will be some — come up.
Any bona fide bid from these parts is more likely to be made by state officials, including Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. While he’s reportedly open to including communities other than Boston in a proposal to Amazon, Ash and others look to the capital first. The sprawling site of the former Suffolk Downs racetrack is said to be getting a lot of attention as a potential location.
Not that any of this is all that surprising, and truth be told, locating Amazon anywhere in eastern Massachusetts would be a huge benefit for the Merrimack Valley and North Shore. But, as these events illustrate, it’s also a shame that our cities and towns aren’t working together more closely.
Our region has strong business groups, in the North Shore and Merrimack Valley chambers of commerce. These and other organizations already work together on issues related to workforce training, taxes and incentives for economic growth. Lawmakers from our communities often join forces, sometimes across the aisle, to find resources in the state or federal governments for projects back home. This region is blessed with strong institutions, colleges and businesses.
Still, we could benefit from broader thinking and more dialogue about the regional economy and what cities and towns might do together to attract major businesses. Without those inter-municipal relationships and connections already in place, the lofty vision of putting together a proposal to land the headquarters of one of the world’s largest retailers seems that much more unattainable.