In call, Amazon tells Newark 1st rule of 2nd phase: Quiet

There will be another RFP, there will be a site visit, there won’t be a lot of public discourse 

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Jan 22, 2018 at 9:52 pm

The most public economic development contest in recent history — the nationwide battle that produced outlandish marketing stunts in an attempt to get Amazon’s attention and land its second headquarters and the $5 billion investment that goes with it — is going quiet. 

At least, that was the word a top Amazon official expressed to more than a dozen representatives of Newark’s bid during an approximately hourlong conference call Monday afternoon. 

The conference call was an effort by Amazon officials to give Newark officials an understanding of what will be expected during the second phase of the process for the site selection of what is being called HQ2 by Amazon. 

It is assumed Amazon officials will make similar calls to all 20 finalists. 

And it’s clear from the Newark call that Amazon officials want the next stages of this process to play out with less fanfare. 

“They gave the indication that they wanted the public discourse to stop,” said a person who was familiar with what was said during the conference call. 

The person requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak on the subject, but they did offer some details of the call, including: 

  • Amazon officials said the company intends to give a second RFP, one with more specifics, to each of the 20 finalists that were selected last week; 
  • Amazon officials did not say specifically what would be requested in the RFP, but said it would be sent by the end of the week — and it would not be released to the public; 
  • Amazon officials will make a site visit to Newark and each of the other 19 finalists, but it will not be a public event; 
  • Amazon officials did not say whether there would be a second cutdown, as there was from the initial 230-plus proposals to the final 20, but they did say they still expect to make a decision by the end of the year. 

“It was a great conversation,” the source said. “They were very professional. 

“People in the room got the feeling it will be a pretty significant request for information, but they did not give any indication as of yet, because they didn’t want to give anybody a leg up on anyone else before they can speak to all 20 finalists.” 

The source said people in the room felt it was readily apparent that the Amazon officials were familiar with the contents of Newark’s bid — and impressed by its contents. 

“You could tell by the questions they asked that the knew the details of the bid,” the person said.  

While Amazon officials were close-lipped as to what would be in the coming RFP, the source said the room got a sense the next request would be a desire to get more specifics about each city’s initial proposals. 

“There was a sense that, in Round One, there was more room to be creative,” the source said. “Now, it’s time to make a business decision, so they are going to be looking for more granular information in all areas, so they can compare apples to apples. 

“They are in site selector mode, so I think they want enough details — what is it going to cost to move there? what is it going to cost to do business there for the next 20 years? — to make comparisons.” 

Representatives of Newark’s economic development team were joined by representatives from the Governor’s Office and from some of the state’s economic development agencies. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka joined by phone. 

City officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday night.

The person said they felt the unified and deep show of force should have made an impression. 

“If there were any concerns about a change of administration, those should be gone,” the source said. “Having the mayor there, having Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s people there, certainly should have shown how serious Newark is about landing Amazon.” 

The call for more privacy in the search wasn’t a surprise, either, the source said. 

“This first round needed to be public,” the source said. “Now, we’re moving into a much more confidential period of time where they will be asking for more specifics of what they are looking for.”