Goodbye, Amazon HQ2 — But With Luck, Not So Many Tech Jobs

As a taxpayer and resident of New York City, it was hard to see Amazon reverse its decision to locate in Long Island City — the part of Queens that sits opposite Manhattan, across the East River.

As a taxpayer and resident of New York City, it was hard to see Amazon reverse its decision to locate Amazon HQ2 in Long Island City — the part of Queens that sits opposite Manhattan, across the East River.

I mean what city (and state) would say “no” to 25,000 to 40,000 middle-class jobs?

Well, apparently some loud mouths — elected and otherwise — in New York City.

Which is kind of a cruel joke, knowing that Amazon was only taking advantage of existing tax incentives offered to any enterprise that might want to locate there — the world’s new leading tech hub. Sure, the company may have wanted to add a helipad, but that’s not such an unusual request for celebrity CEOs. Its future tax incentives would be earned — with the city and state likely to collect 10 times the return in various revenue.

Credit: Office of Comptroller of the State of New York | “The Technology Sector in New York City”

Only Fools Would Say ‘No’ to That

Indeed, lots of industries — including another one from the West Coast, Hollywood — get loads of incentives to locate work there (and elsewhere). No one carries on much about the film industry. New York or Virginia had hardly landed — and in New York’s case, ultimately lost — an exclusive on Amazon HQ2. Cities and states across the country cut deals for jobs all of the time, including those that passed on the Amazon dog-and-pony show. Common sense says bring these jobs home.

Now, 25,000 to 40,000 New Yorkers have missed out on good-paying positions in a 21st century economy. Remember this blunder next election. Perhaps other companies — by the dozens — will generate and compete for these livelihoods in this dynamic local economy. Still, Amazon’s new managers will go elsewhere, undoubtedly benefiting other cities.

Someone has to answer for this.

It didn’t help, perhaps, that Amazon fashioned itself as some golden calf — a national prize. I mean, other tech giants — Google, for one — have brought thousands of jobs into the city. Google works with neighborhoods and the city to improve credentials. Google has its detractors, but it works from within and reaches out, and is growing outside the city’s more tax-friendly enterprise zones.

Perhaps, then, Amazon has to take some of the blame.

Bezos & Company could have done the same — invest in the community, build local coalitions — and weathered the initial resentments … all very successfully. But it made a decision to quit the city too quickly, and it’s not sitting well with me. I mean, Bezos bought The Washington Post to build a global brand, make more money and save democracy — yet, the company undermined democracy in its decision here (and so did elected officials who assailed the company).

According to the governor, eight in 10 New Yorkers backed Amazon’s expansion in New York State. The company still walked away because of a cabal of activist “Progressive Democrats”— many of whom never have built a business — who don’t seem to care for profits and future tax revenue, or see any reason to use incentives to attract jobs.

That’s not democracy — that’s Venezuela.

A business is a business — and whether old economy or new economy — it must answer to shareholders, investors, owners, and to customers and employees, too. It has a fiduciary responsibility to do so. Some socialists simply hate that, and chose to demonize the world’s richest man and his company — just as some demonize the collection of data that makes Amazon, and so many other disruptive innovators, so successful.

Profit Under Fire — What Does This Portend?

We need to repel these no-growth influences that now have a voice seemingly in all levels of government.

Regarding Amazon, in Albany (New York’s capital) and New York City, these activists won the day. They’d rather have a city and state go wanting — than to have a tax base that might begin to fund at least some of their generous schemes. The Economist calls this “Millennial Socialism” — though no insult intended to the former. (Bernie Sanders wasn’t born in 1990.)

The incentive-for-job-growth debate is not unlike the data-for-value concept. Both require trust, transparency, local control, self-regulation and willing partners. When in sync, wow – look at the undeniable dividends. When out of step, what a blunder.

Now, Long Island City and Queens may never know the opportunity they had. Let’s hope better for the rest of New York City, and of the country, before we, too, fall out of step.