Editorial: Nothing ventured, nothing gained as Orange eyes Amazon bid

  • Large spheres take shape in front of an existing Amazon building, behind, as new construction continues across the street in Seattle in October 2017. AP File Photo

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The town of Orange has tossed its hat in the ring for the chance to host Amazon’s second headquarters, joining 238 towns and cities across North America vying for a project that promises to generate 50,000 jobs and a huge windfall of new tax revenue wherever it builds its planned $5 billion facility.

The North Quabbin region town’s long-shot application may seem mere whimsy to some, but it also reflects the town’s willingness to support innovation, its unwillingness to settle for the status quo. This innovation spirit was rewarded by the state recently when it granted $250,000 from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency for LaunchSpace, a 10,000-square-foot workshop space on the third floor of the Orange Innovation Center.

The LaunchSpace grant aims to support infrastructure that propels innovation, albeit at a more modest scale than what Amazon imagines. The LaunchSpace grant will be used to re-purpose the empty industrial space and upgrade its insulation, HVAC system, windows and electric. It follows planned parking lot improvements for the OIC.  All this is designed to attract and encourage small-scale entrepreneurs who can expand the town’s tax base and jobs offerings at a modest, decidedly non-Amazon, clip.

Then-Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who helped steer the grant to Orange, recognized the town’s will-do spirit when he noted, “By giving entrepreneurs across Massachusetts the tools and support they need to succeed, we are driving innovation that fuels our economy.”

In the case of the Amazon proposal, Denise Andrews, a town resident and former state representative for the 2nd Franklin District, identified two potential locations for the online retailers second home – one off Route 2’s Exit 15 and another on a Rodney Hunt Fontaine Inc. site that she said could be re-purposed with federal and state money. She said the area is perfect for the development due to low real estate costs, access to the Orange Municipal Airport and reasonable proximity to talent from internationally known education powerhouses including Harvard and MIT in Boston.

Those factors could be a recipe for success not just for an Amazon-sized endeavor, but also for more likely projects. And it’s a good bet that those 238 applications to be Amazon’s new second home will get second readings from other developers looking for a good place to set down roots. And so, Andrews’ application to Amazon may lay the foundation for other opportunities.

Forward-thinking initiatives start with a can-do attitude that leads to ideas that then need to be fleshed out. Not all of them pan out, but putting them down on paper is a useful exercise.

“It was a long shot to get to the moon,” said Andrews to Selectboard members in defense of her letter of intent to Amazon.

Kudos for bold moves and bold spirit in Orange.