Here’s How Amazon and Boston Could Win Together
The Boston Globe weighed in over the weekend with an unsolicited “Dear Jeff Bezos” letter, urging Amazon’s founder and CEO to help the city ease some of its most pressing problems—including an aged and often malfunctioning mass transit system. Oh, and the lack of affordable housing.
The letter urged Amazon (AMZN) to “dive in” to attack these problems, applying its famed logistics expertise. After all, the letter argued, tax breaks can be had anywhere, but Amazon and Boston could really work together in a new public-private partnership to solve some big problems. In return, Amazon would gain up-close access to thousands of top-flight graduates of local universities and other perks.
Some suggestions: Amazon should buy all local employees—the company says HQ2 could have 50,000 in time—with “T” passes instead of parking spaces. (“T” is short for MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority which runs the area’s bus, light rail, and commuter rail systems.)
Going even bigger, the letter (which ran under a newsroom commentary label) suggested Amazon should house its people:
We get that Amazon isn’t really in the housing business. But neither were the Pullman railcar company, Hershey chocolate, or Steinway Pianos back in the days of company towns, and they built whole neighborhoods to house their workers.
Why not reinvent that idea for the 21st century (minus the creepy corporate paternalism), and develop a campus where at least some of your workforce can also live?
And Boston—which is an HQ2 frontrunner according to some reports that Amazon later denied—is famously conflicted about big disruptions. The city sank its own bid to host the 2024 Olympics, even though the U.S. Olympic Committee initially selected it. One sticking point in that situation was the commonly held belief that there was no way the strained mass transit system could move Olympic-sized crowds. Many felt that if the Olympics paid for a massive transit overhaul—instead of relying on public funding to spiff up the T—things may have been different. (Los Angeles eventually became the USOC’s venue choice, and was chosen this year by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.)
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The Olympics bid was initially supported by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who subsequently balked at the cost. He and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker were more successful courting General Electric (GE) to put its new headquarters in South Boston. Both officials are pushing hard for Amazon HQ2.
Typically, city boosters tell prospective corporations what the locality can offer the company. In this case, the Globe is pretty much paraphrasing native son John F. Kennedy’s plea: “Ask not what Boston can do for Amazon, but what Amazon can do for Boston.”