‘Long-shot’ bid to land Amazon headquarters falls short for N.H.

  • Gov. Chris Sununu and Commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs Taylor Caswell are shown Thursday. PAUL STEINHAUSER / For the Monitor

  • FILE - In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. Amazon announced Thursday, Sept. 7, that it has opened the search for a second headquarters, promising to spend more than 5 billion on the opening. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) Richard Drew

For the Monitor
Published: 1/18/2018 5:10:04 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu acknowledged that New Hampshire’s bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters was a longshot.

But he touted the state’s proposal as the “most comprehensive marketing plan” in history and said the effort can be used to court other companies.

Sununu made the comments just hours after it became clear the Granite State failed to make a list of 20 finalists hoping to land the online retail behemoth’s new headquarters, which is dubbed HQ2.

Just a day earlier, the governor underscored how the quest for Amazon made him change course and support a $4 million federally funded study on the feasibility of bringing commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester. Sununu included the funding in the state’s 10-year transportation plan that he handed over to the Legislature.

Asked if he still supports commuter rail, the governor answered, “it’s in the Legislature’s hands right now. It’s not really up to me at this point.”

Amazon sorted through 238 proposals from across the United States, Canada and Mexico. The 20 finalists include Boston; New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Toronto.

“If you look at the list, it’s all major metropolitan areas. They clearly want to go to a major downtown metropolitan area. We don’t have anything of that size,” Sununu told reporters gathered in the corner office.

“We knew that this was a bit of a longshot to say the least when we went after it,” the governor admitted.

But he touted that “we were aggressive about it. And I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re incredibly proud that we were able to put together what is clearly the most comprehensive marketing plan for businesses the state has ever seen,” he said

A fierce competition among cities and states was ignited last autumn after Amazon announced it was searching for a home for its new second headquarters and its promise of some 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars in construction spending.

The governor pitched the 600-acre Woodmont Commons development in Londonderry to Amazon. The site is right off Interstate 93 and close to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Wednesday, after Apple announced it would build a second corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers, the governor took to Twitter to pitch New Hampshire.

“I think we’re going to use the same plan to court a lot of other companies,” Sununu told the Monitor.

“It was really designed so you could take the word Amazon off and really put anything from Apple to Fred’s Flower Shop. I mean any company can really use this plan as the template for why New Hampshire could be a great option for them to either start or expand their company,” the governor added.

Some of the state’s top Democrats criticized Sununu, who’s running for re-election this year, following the news that New Hampshire didn’t make Amazon’s cut.

State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn told the Monitor that “it was a missed opportunity.”

“We wish it was a more serious proposal where it wasn’t just him (Sununu) saying ‘Boston is bad place. Don’t go there,’ ” Woodburn said. “You don’t win by knocking other folks down. You win by lifting us up.”

Woodburn was referencing New Hampshire’s October proposal to land the new Amazon HQ, which said “all the benefits of Boston without all the headaches,” citing “the cumbersome commute times, taxes, and affordability challenges that plague Boston businesses and their employees.”

But with New Hampshire out of the running, Sununu’s now backing Boston’s bid.

“I hope Boston does land it. There’s a huge benefit,” he told the Monitor. “We’re part of that region, and there’s no doubt there’ll be a lot of indirect benefits right here in New Hampshire if they (Amazon) were to relocate in downtown Boston.

State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said that the Granite State’s failure to make the list of 20 finalists doesn’t mean that the “New Hampshire Advantage” is dead.

The term was used to describe the state’s climb to become a top business climate in the 1980’s and 1990s. There has been plenty of debate in recent years over whether the New Hampshire Advantage still exists.

“We have one of the strongest economies in the country. We have the fourth-lowest unemployment rate. We have the highest per capita income. We have the lowest poverty rate,” Bradley said.

In making his pitch to Amazon, Sununu offered the possibility of a commuter rail system to bring workers to the proposed headquarters in Londonderry.

As he campaign for governor in 2016, then-Executive Councilor Sununu called commuter rail a “boondoggle.”

But Wednesday, in Nashua – a city that has longed for passenger rail to the Boston area – Sununu backed the commuter rail study.

He said it’s now up to the Legislature examine the variables.

“Myself putting rail forward right now is really about the timing, not just Amazon coming into play,” he said. “Some of the potentials for public-private partnerships had evolved and matured to a point where we could get into some of the details.”

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