Dem Candidate For Governor Urges Amazon To 'Come To Worcester,' Boost Rail Plan

Sep 22, 2017

Worcester is the ideal Massachusetts location for Amazon to build a second headquarters and the technology company could help pay for high-speed rail linking both ends of the state, gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren said Friday.

"We should urge Amazon to come to Worcester," the Newton mayor, a Democrat, told reporters in a conference call. He said, "It needs to be combined with high-speed rail."

Metropolitan areas across North America are expected to bid for the opportunity to host Amazon's HQ2, which the company promised would include $5 billion in capital investments and the employment of as many as 50,000 high-paid workers.

"There could be an opportunity for Amazon to contribute to high-speed rail," Warren said. He said, "This would meet the needs of an Amazon."

Warren backs high-speed rail linking western Massachusetts to Boston regardless of where Amazon chooses to build, and he said he supports increasing state revenue "including" a tax on incomes over $1 million to help pay for it.

As Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other local leaders put together applications ahead of the Oct. 19 submission date, Gov. Charlie Baker has stayed out of picking favorites at this stage, backing the whole state as a good fit for the online retailer and tech giant.

"Locals are going to propose on their own. We're not going to partner with any particular local," the Republican governor said on WGBH Thursday.

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray, who was Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick's lieutenant governor, told the News Service that New England's second largest city "has a lot to offer" and leaders there are "working to put together a proposal in response to the bid." He said, "I think there's a pretty compelling case."

Worcester has an airport, a startup community, thousands of college students, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and connections to Boston and other New England cities, Murray noted.

There have been "dramatic improvements" in the commuter rail connection between Worcester and Boston, said Murray, who said he expects service to improve along the line – which passes through Warren's hometown.

Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton and Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, during an appearance in Springfield in 2012.
Credit Michael S. Gordon / The Republican

An Amazon investment in Massachusetts should "put a dent in the problem of economic equality," said Warren. He said any tax breaks offered the company "must be tied to real outcomes for people."

In addition to Boston and Worcester, Merrimack Valley officials have reportedly discussed a bid to land Amazon.

On Thursday evening, after Warren announced plans to hold a Friday morning conference call on the Amazon bid, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash texted him, "let me know if you have any ideas relative to Amazon that we could put into the state's bid," according to the campaign. Warren responded that he would connect the Baker administration official with Newton's economic development team.

Seizing on one particular region of the state for the biggest economic development opportunity in years is an interesting political move for a gubernatorial candidate looking for statewide appeal, and one that could potentially open a rift between him and Walsh, a Democrat who is also a close partner with the Republican governor.

The two other Democrats who have announced their intention to run for governor next year are Jay Gonzalez, who was Patrick's budget chief, and Bob Massie, an entrepreneur and environmentalist.

Warren's idea would be more in line with what Senate President Stan Rosenberg has called for – a bid for Amazon focused outside of Boston that includes investment in rail.

"If we're going to be going down the path of Amazon, we should be selling Massachusetts, not Boston," the Amherst Democrat told WHMP. He said, "There's housing all over the state that is in need of rejuvenation and habitation. There's open space where you can build more housing that's affordable. But you can't get there, and so therefore we need trains to get people back and forth."

In a statement released after his conference call, Warren said, "Amazon is a disruptive force that has shaped the world of online commerce and beyond. I believe that Amazon can also be a disruptive force to fight economic inequality while still making smart business decisions. Worcester is experiencing a renaissance good enough to support Amazon and all of the future Jeff Bezos’ located in Springfield, Framingham, and East Boston who could create the iconic companies of tomorrow anywhere in Massachusetts – if only they had the 21st century transportation system to do it."

This report was originally published by the State House News Service.