Ama­zon re­jected area cities’ bid for HQ

New Haven, Bridge­port to press case for cor­po­rate site

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Lock­hart

BRIDGE­PORT — Mayor Joe Ganim and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp are in­tent on sub­mit­ting a joint pitch for Ama­zon’s sec­ond head­quar­ters, even though the state re­cently en­dorsed sep­a­rate pro­pos­als from Stam­ford and Hart­ford in­stead.

“I’m sure Stam­ford has great things to of­fer, as does Hart­ford,” Ganim said Tues­day. “I’m not sure what the state de­ci­sion means. … I think ev­ery­body should sub­mit and let Ama­zon have a choice. It gives us three to four op­por­tu­ni­ties to be re­viewed in Con­necti­cut.”

“The plans for a re­gional bid are go­ing for­ward,” said a Harp spokesman.

But ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment, while Ama­zon’s dead­line for fi­nal sub­mis­sions is Oct. 19, the Seat­tle­based on­line re­tail­ing be­he­moth al­ready ruled out the Bridge­port/New Haven pro­posal. Jim Wat­son, a DECD spokesman, in an email late Tues­day said the depart­ment had ap­proached Ama­zon “to see whether hav­ing the head­quar­ters split be­tween two cities — some 19 miles apart — would even be con­sid­ered.”

“The com­pany ad­vised us in no un­cer­tain terms that this con­fig­u­ra­tion would not be ac­cept­able,” Wat­son wrote. “So, while we be­lieve the as­sets of the cities are very at­trac­tive,” the Bridge­port and New Haven sub­mis­sion “is not com­pet­i­tive and there­fore

I think it’s an open ques­tion of whether the state would be as will­ing to grant in­cen­tives to Bridge­port/ New Haven as they would for their two en­dorsed picks.” Mickey Herbert, Bridge­port Re­gional Busi­ness Coun­cil

can­not be in­cluded in the state’s fi­nal ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Ganim and Harp even met with DECD Com­mis­sioner Cather­ine Smith in her Hart­ford of­fices last week in a last ditch ef­fort to get DECD to rec­om­mend the Bridge­port/New Haven part­ner­ship with Stam­ford’s and Hart­ford’s pitches.

Ganim down­played DECD’s sup­port: “It (Ama­zon’s list of cri­te­ria) doesn’t say any­thing about hav­ing a let­ter from the state of Con­necti­cut.”

But it puts Bridge­port and New Haven at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage, fi­nan­cially.

The com­pany’s in­struc­tions to ap­pli­cants in­ter­ested in host­ing its sec­ond head­quar­ters call for “a sum­mary of to­tal in­cen­tives of­fered for the project by the state/province and lo­cal com­mu­nity.” And that, typ­i­cally, would be where state gov­ern­ment and the DECD would come in. So Bridge­port and New Haven can pro­mote them­selves to Ama­zon, but can­not, for now, guar­an­tee state money.

Mickey Herbert, head of the Bridge­port Re­gional Busi­ness Coun­cil, sup­ports Ganim’s and Harp’s joint ef­fort. But asked about the DECD’s re­jec­tion, Herbert ac­knowl­edged Tues­day: “Where it might be tougher is in terms of what­ever in­cen­tives Ama­zon will seek. I think it’s an open ques­tion of whether the state would be as will­ing to grant in­cen­tives to Bridge­port/New Haven as they would for their two en­dorsed picks.”

Av Har­ris, Ganim’s li­ai­son with state gov­ern­ment, said, “What was told to us is should the Bridge­port/ New Haven pro­posal be se­lected (by Ama­zon), at that point we could have that con­ver­sa­tion (about state sub­si­dies). The door was not closed to that.”

Wat­son de­clined to com­ment on any in­cen­tives be­ing of­fered Ama­zon to come to Stam­ford or Hart­ford.

Herbert said it would be “ut­ter folly” for the state not to step up with fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives should Ama­zon fa­vor Bridge­port/New Haven.

The big pic­ture

Ama­zon’s kicked off the com­pe­ti­tion to host its sec­ond base of op­er­a­tions in early Septem­ber. Soon after Mar­ketWatch, a pop­u­lar fi­nan­cial web­site, set off a buzz in Bridge­port with an anal­y­sis list­ing Con­necti­cut’s largest city among those that fit Ama­zon’s stated cri­te­ria – but only, ac­cord­ing to the on­line pub­li­ca­tion, “if you’re will­ing to bend the rules just a lit­tle bit” pop­u­la­tion-wise.

Ganim, who is ex­plor­ing a run for gov­er­nor in 2018, has been tout­ing the Mar­ketWatch ar­ti­cle as fur­ther proof of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment dur­ing his nearly two years back in of­fice. The Demo­cratic mayor first ran the city in the 1990s.

How­ever, for Mar­ketWatch, “Bridge­port” ap­peared to be short­hand for Fair­field County. Ama­zon wants metropoli­tan ar­eas of 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Mar­ketWatch noted Ama­zon would have to “bend the rules” for Bridge­port’s pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing Fair­field County’s pop­u­la­tion, which is ac­tu­ally 944,000.

Which begs the ques­tion — if the Mar­ketWatch ar­ti­cle em­bold­ened the Ganim ad­min­is­tra­tion to court Ama­zon, why not partner to the south­west with Stam­ford on a Fair­field County pitch rather than turn to New Haven?

For ex­am­ple, Thomas Madden, Stam­ford’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment chief, said Tues­day that while his city’s goal is to bring Ama­zon to town – the UBS and Pit­ney Bowes build­ings have been of­fered — Stam­ford’s pro­posal pro­moted the en­tirety of Fair­field County.

“We’re tak­ing as­pects of Bridge­port and Dan­bury and West­port and Fair­field and Wil­ton and in­clud­ing that to say, ‘Hey, if you look at this re­gion, we have all the things that check the box for Ama­zon,’ ” Madden said.

Ganim in­sisted that the Mar­ketWatch anal­y­sis was about his city, not Fair­field County -- “Bridge­port was the word they used, right?”

He fur­ther ar­gued that Bridge­port, as the largest city, and New Haven, as Con­necti­cut’s sec­ond largest mu­nic­i­pal­ity, have, when com­bined, many as­sets which fit Ama­zon’s de­mands.

But a closer look at Ama­zon’s ap­pli­ca­tion also in­di­cates it would have made more sense for Bridge­port to unite with Stam­ford. Ama­zon specif­i­cally stated that it was look­ing for sub­mis­sions from “metropoli­tan sta­tis­ti­cal ar­eas” – MSAs.

And, ac­cord­ing to the state, Bridge­port and Stam­ford are in the same MSA, while New Haven is in an­other.

Har­ris said Stam­ford “was al­ready work­ing on their own plan, be­ing pushed by the state” and it was log­i­cal that Ganim and Harp pair up.

“We have an Ivy League school (Yale in New Haven),” noted Herbert. “They don’t have that in Stam­ford or Hart­ford.”

Tak­ing pol­i­tics into ac­count

The po­lit­i­cal in­trigue sur­round­ing Con­necti­cut’s ef­forts to woo Ama­zon can­not be ig­nored.

As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, Ganim is eye­ing the gov­er­nor’s man­sion. And he has been forg­ing a po­lit­i­cal al­liance with Harp that could pay off dur­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion or a gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary.

Mean­while out­go­ing Demo­cratic Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy – who is not ex­actly close with Ganim -- was for­merly the long­time mayor of Stam­ford.

And Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut’s capi­tol, run by Mal­loy ally Mayor Luke Bronin, is tee­ter­ing on bank­ruptcy and would cer­tainly ben­e­fit should Ama­zon open a head­quar­ters there.

Har­ris in­sisted that Bridge­port’s play for Ama­zon is about eco­nomics, not pol­i­tics.

“We’re putting in a real bid,” he said. “(And) we feel it’s a very strong bid.”

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