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New York got played by Amazon

New York got played by Amazon
[Photos: www.quotecatalog.com; Flickr user John Gillespie]

Earlier this month New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joked (?) that he would change his name to “Amazon Cuomo, if that’s what it takes” to get the ecommerce giant to set up shop in the Empire State. Cuomo got his wish, but instead of merely debasing himself and his name, he embarrassed the state and city of New York.

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Today Amazon announced it was opening two new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia–along with a third, smaller one in Nashville. Amazon loves to brag about the power it has over everything around it, so we delved into the details. It turns out these cities are paying a pretty penny for the privilege of Amazon serfdom.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • New York is giving Amazon $1.525 billion in “performance-based direct incentives” for creating 25,000 new jobs. This includes a $325 million cash grant, along with $48,000 for each of the 25,000 jobs.
  • Arlington is giving the company a total of $573 million. This includes $22,000 for each of the 25,000 jobs Amazon will supposedly make, along with another $23 million cash grant. (A disturbing footnote that every journalist should note is that Virginia also agreed to give Amazon advanced warning about any FOIA requests for information.)
  • Nashville is giving the ecommerce giant $102 million in total, which includes cash grants ranging from $4,500 to $13,000 for each of the 5,000 new jobs it creates.

Essentially, each area is paying a premium for the supposed economic boost that Amazon will provide. And New York is by far paying the most.

New York’s infrastructure has been pressed to its limits for years. The subways are in a constant state of disrepair, rents have been skyrocketing, and affordable housing has been in a state of crisis. Many of New York’s more than 8.6 million residents are looking toward city and state leaders to address the systemic problems plaguing the city.

A company like Amazon could present an opportunity to collect more taxes to fix the crumbling foundation. Instead, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio made a deal with Jeff Bezos that cost the city more than twice what the other supposed headquarters are paying. (Some could argue that Amazon is receiving non-monetary compensation in Virginia by living beside and ingratiating itself with Washington, D.C., but that’s beside the point.)

And at what cost? Will Amazon’s presence help fix the rot? On the contrary, crowding into an already-densely packed area will lead to more–and potentially worse–problems down the line. Long Island City’s Court Square subway stop saw about 23,672 average weekday riders in 2017. That will more than double with HQ2. Jeff Bezos, however, will probably not be one of them, as the city has agreed to give the company access to a helipad.

Soon we’ll begin to see the reality of a company planting itself in a neighborhood where the rent was already rising, smack dab next to the country’s largest affordable housing project. And while this happens, politicians like Cuomo will undoubtedly tout this new chapter as good development in the annals of New York–one that he spearheaded. Expect to hear Amazon’s name invoked along with rumors of a presidential run.

The truth is that Cuomo–and New York as a whole–ought to be embarrassed. Early on it was clear that the city was going to bend over backwards for Amazon, but there was no way to know just how far back we’d bend.

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