Amazon needs 8.1 million square feet for its new headquarters. New Haven can find only 4 million.
That didn’t stop New Haven from joining cities throughout North America in a mad race to land the Seattle-based online retail giant’s planned $5 billion second campus (aka “HQ2”) along with its “50,000 high-paying jobs” (averaging over $100,000 a year each in compensation). The company also predicts in its request for proposals that the winning city will reap “tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.” (Click here to read the full request.)
With no illusions about our chances, the city’s economic development team has been giving it the old college-town try in response to a request by the state to put together a pitch. New Haven teamed up with Bridgeport to make a joint proposal.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) asked communities throughout the state to prepare proposals to forward to Amazon. The state plans to pick one to then champion and submit it by Amazon’s Oct. 19 deadline.
“We received 17 submissions and are making progress in the selection process, but we are not providing any additional details at this time,” reported DECD spokesman Jim Watson.
Watson didn’t tell the whole story. DECD has apparently eliminated some proposals in a first cut. One of those was New Haven’s and Bridgeport’s proposal. The two New Haven leaders helping to quarterback the proposal, city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson and Virginia Kozlowski, executive director of the quasi-public regional REX economic development arm, told the Independent that they learned Monday about not making the cut.
They and other regional business and government leaders have been convening this week to decide whether to hone and pursue the pitch to Amazon directly, only their own.
Nemerson had a meeting scheduled Friday with his counterpart in Bridgeport to start moving ahead, he said Thursday night. “The message I got from the mayor” is to press ahead, he said. He suggested that a joint New Haven-Bridgeport Amazon campus, linked by rapid bus transit, would give Amazon founder Jeff Bezos the chance to “turn around the fortunes of two post-industrial cities” in “one fell swoop.” He said “the message I got from the mayor” is to press ahead.
From the start, Amazon’s terms has presented a steep climb for New Haven. For instance, New Haven can’t deliver an international airport (Tweed doesn’t count) within 45 miles. Maybe Amazon wouldn’t count the few extra miles it takes to reach Bradley? (The company’s request does say “approximately” 45 miles.) There’s still a problem, though: You can’t fly directly from Bradley to Seattle.
And about that need for 8.1 million square feet for the campus?
New Haven was able to come up with 4 million square feet it could probably gain control over during the next four to six years, on and around the filling-in Route 34 Connector mini-highway ending at the 100 College Street Alexion tower, according to Nemerson. The city would start with the land right near Alexion, then expand to property in the Hill-to-Downtown corridor as well as on the other side of Route 34, down to State Street.
“Eight million square feet is a lot of space,” Nemerson said. “That’s basically 20 Connecticut Financial Centers,” or eight Alexion towers.
Even the four million square feet New Haven identified would not be immediately available, Nemerson said.
But Bridgeport has land, too, 21 miles down I-95.
That’s why New Haven had decided to partner with the Park City to present the joint proposal. The two cities worked on the proposal along with two regional quasi-public economic development organizations, REX (part of the South Central Regional Council of Governments) and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. The regional Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, also participated.
Call the new “city” Bridgehaven. (Well, the people putting together the proposal don’t call it that. That’s just our suggestion.) And carve suburban towns like Fairfield into the mix, as an official there suggested in this CT Post article.
REX’s Kozlowski noted that Amazon’s current campus has 30 buildings spread out over miles. Other parts of the country incorporate communities within broader city limits, while Connecticut carves up a small state into 169 separate municipalities. Many of the 19 suburbs in the Greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas would be within city limits elsewhere in the U.S.
Combining the two metro areas also gets the proposal over the 1 million-population mark required by Amazon. It enables Bridgehaven to boost a long list of universities and a far bigger pool of tech employees. On the other hand two major employers, GE and Alexion, have decided to relocate headquarters from Fairfield and New Haven for Boston in part, they claimed, to be closer to a bigger tech and academic cluster.
“We encourage cities to think big and be creative,” Amazon declared.
Whatever happens with this proposal, both regions are in a better position now to attract jobs, Kozlowski said Thursday.
“Even if we decide not to submit to Amazon, this prepares us to move on other proposals” from employers looking to locate here, she argued. “We’re not in a very compact area. But we can leverage when we work together.” She said the planning process is a first step to having Greater New Haven and Greater Bridgeport combine their strengths and think more broadly as a region. It also can help “change the narrative” about how “businesses are leaving” when in fact lots of businesses are locating here, she said.
Nemerson mentioned the city’s Amazon pitch in passing at an Board of Alders committee hearing this week, but the city has not particularly talked it up. It hasn’t manned war rooms or launched public campaigns or Tweeted videos to Jeff Bezos the way leaders of other cities throughout North America have done in the frenzy to win Amazon’s heart. Click on the above video to see Danbury’s offering, in which Mayor Mark Boughton enlists the support of Alexa. (The Independent has contributed a postcard, shown at the top of this story.)
Bridgeport’s planning department took the lead on preparing the joint proposal with New Haven. Bridgeport government spokeswoman Rowena White called it “premature” to release the proposal. “The group is not disseminating or sharing preliminary presentations yet as it is still a work in progress and on its way to being finalized as a collaborative submission,” she said.
In its message to suitors, Amazon is also demanding that the winning city have “a stable and business-friendly environment.” As well as, by the way, strong mass transit.
We do “have heavy rail,” Nemerson noted. “So that’s pretty good.”