Amazon is not getting the welcome it expected from Queens

“DELIVERING EVERYTHING under the sun and 25,000 new jobs”, bragged a glossy flyer from Amazon about its plans to build a second headquarters in Queens. The mailer, posted to many New Yorkers last month, urged recipients to ring their state lawmakers to tell them to support the project. The giant retailer is facing opposition from a few vocal politicians, so much so that the Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, recently reported that the company is having second thoughts about building in the Big Apple.

In 2017 Amazon announced it was looking for a second headquarters, launching an intense municipal beauty pageant. It pitted more than 200 cities against each other to extract the most subsidies. New York’s winning $3bn offer was not the most generous, but it has become controversial. Opponents, who include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a local congressional representative, wonder why the city is giving billions to a company led by the world’s richest man. Michael Bloomberg, New York’s former mayor, thinks the company would have settled on New York without the incentives. The Cornell Tech campus is across the river from the proposed Amazon site and the city has lots of engineers and developers.

Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, once said that he would change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” if the company came, and continues to insist that New York needs Amazon. That view has been challenged in Albany, the state capital. Mike Gianaris, a state senator and Amazon foe, has been nominated to the state panel which has the power to kill the deal. He criticises the secrecy behind it. Nor is he a fan of “corporate welfare”. Governor Cuomo says such opposition from state legislators is “governmental malpractice”. During a recent state hearing Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, pointed out that 25,000 well-paid jobs are coming to Queens. The positions have an average salary of $150,000.

Kathryn Wylde, of Partnership for New York City, which represents big firms, says the rumoured threats by Amazon to abandon New York are not idle, but that “leaving would be embarrassing for both sides.” Jukay Hsu, of Pursuit, a local charity which teaches low-income people to code, thinks there is posturing on both sides. Those close to Amazon say leaving New York is no bluff. It could easily go across the river to Newark, New Jersey, which had offered a $7bn incentive package, more than double New York’s bid. Newark, eight miles from Manhattan, would give Amazon easy access to the latter’s talent pool.

Recent polls show that New Yorkers support the Amazon deal, with the strongest support from African-Americans and Latinos. Even union households back it. Meanwhile, other places are reminding Amazon that they are open for business. Virginia, which shared the winning bid, is giving Amazon a decidedly warmer welcome. On January 28th, its lawmakers approved its subsidy plan after nine whole minutes of debate.

This post was originally posted at https://www.economist.com/business/2019/02/16/amazon-is-not-getting-the-welcome-it-expected-from-queens.

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