RI leaders hope to lure new $5B Amazon HQ

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Could Rhode Island become Amazon.com’s second home?

It’s certainly a long shot, but Gov. Gina Raimondo’s aides say she still plans to make a pitch to the Seattle-based e-retail giant following its announcement Thursday that it would open Amazon HQ2, a second North American headquarters. The company said it expects to spend as much as $5 billion on the facility and eventually employ up to 50,000 people there.

Asked whether Raimondo would try to convince Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his team to choose Rhode Island for the new headquarters, Raimondo spokesman Mike Raia quipped: “Is Tom Brady starting for the Patriots tonight?”

Added R.I. Commerce Corporation spokesman Matt Sheaff, “With the governor’s economic toolbox, we believe we can make a competitive case for why they should choose Rhode Island. Of course it’s going to be a competitive process, but we look forward to applying.”

He added, “We have to try.”

Amazon said it’s looking for a metropolitan area with more than 1 million residents; the Providence metropolitan area is home to about 1.6 million people. The company also wants a “stable and business-friendly environment,” “urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent” and “communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.”

“We expect HQ2 to be a full equal to our Seattle headquarters,” Bezos said in a statement. “Amazon HQ2 will bring billions of dollars in up-front and ongoing investments, and tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re excited to find a second home.”

Bids for the new headquarters are due Oct. 19 to Amazon’s Office of Economic Development in Seattle. The company will announce its choice next year.

Aaron Renn, an economic-development expert and former Rhode Island resident who has analyzed Amazon’s intentions, said the state was right to make an effort despite what is sure to be enormous competition.

“Rhode Island is intriguing because it is part of the part of the much larger Boston region. You need scale to employ 50,000 people,” Renn said in an email. “I would say Rhode Island is not among the favorites but for something like this there’s no reason not to join at least the first round of bidding.”

Amazon has already established a footprint in the Providence metropolitan area, opening a large distribution center in Fall River earlier this year. The company also has tech staffers based in Boston.

Rhode Island’s last high-profile effort to lure a top company’s headquarters was the 2015 battle for General Electric. Providence ended up as one of the finalists before the company eventually chose Boston.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook