Bezos Bubble

New York Bucks HQ2 and Proves You Can Resist Amazon

The tech giant scraps its Queens headquarters as New York City officials put up the fight Seattle hasn't.

By Anne Dennon February 14, 2019

After a year of high-profile searching and competitive courtship (Arizona sent a 2o foot cactus), Amazon announced it would split its second headquarters between New York City and Northern Virginia. But just two months after the announcement, Amazon has decided to pull the plug on a Long Island City, Queens HQ2. 

The surprise decision comes after tense public hearings between New York City Council members and Amazon representatives who couldn't agree on what the city owed Amazon (tax incentives) and what Amazon owed the city (guaranteed local jobs and public transportation support beyond building a helipad).

New York council members spurned the incentives the city's Economic Development Corporation made to Amazon, including nearly $3 billion in government subsidies. City officials asked why the city should pay a corporate giant to set up shop, particularly when their plans didn't include public infrastructure. Like Seattle, Queens struggles to accommodate its populace with sufficient housing and transit—two problems that the addition of an Amazon headquarters promised to exacerbate. Amazon shrugged off the city's concerns with the economic promise of bringing 25,000 jobs to Queens now, and up to 40,000 jobs in 15 years. 

While secondary Amazon hubs are still on the docket for Arlington, Virginia, and Nashville, Tennessee, Amazon announced in a statement this morning that it's not searching for a corporate campus to replace Queens at this time. Amazon blames the disappointing turn of events on opposition from local officials—"we love New York." 

Perhaps Amazon isn't eager to install itself in a second city that resents its crowding, gentrifying presence and demands infrastructure aid. But in New York, the public appears to have supported an Amazon HQ2 (the statement cites a poll showing 70 percent approval), while officials looked sternly on the strain it would create. In Seattle, on the other hand, public sentiment toward Amazon runs lukewarm while the city repeatedly capitulates to the company's demands. See for example the behind-closed-doors decision to ditch even a reduced head tax, as well as the apology letter penned when Seattle officials worried the city's anti-Amazon sentiment had the monolith looking to relocate.

New York's insistence that Amazon contribute to infrastructure stands in stark contrast to Seattle's historically wishy-washy behavior when asking for the same things. But Amazon is a lot more important to us than it could ever hope to be to New York. (Arlington and Nashville aren't making much fuss, either.) The Seattle Times called Seattle "America's biggest company town" when an analysis commissioned by that paper showed Amazon's office space footprint to be larger than any other corporation's in any other major U.S. city. While Seattle's prosperity and problems are both tied up in Amazon, New York is free to show the company the door. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, "You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity."

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