The drawn-out theater of Amazon’s decision Tuesday to split its second headquarters between New York’s Long Island City and Arlington, VA’s Crystal City was met with a maelstrom of criticism from local officials and professionals.
While Amazon has touted the prosperity the headquarters would bring — pledging to make $5 billion in capital investments and create 50,000 jobs between the two headquarters — politicians voiced concerns that the influx of tech workers would fuel inequality and hurt lower-income populations. Others slammed the company for settling on obvious cities after a lengthy search that drew 238 bids, including many from smaller cities in need of the “transformation” Amazon promised.
While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo implored Amazon to come to New York City, reportedly saying he’d “change his name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes”, local politicians were wary about the deal. Prior to the announcement, New York City council member Jimmy Van Bramer and state senator Michael Gianaris published a joint statement in the Yonkers Tribune criticizing the use of “scarce public resources” as "massive corporate welfare. Now, Van Bramer and Gianaris are teaming up with local activist groups to protest Amazon’s plans on Wednesday.
“Say no to the richest company in the world robbing over $1 billion from state funding for our schools, transit and housing,” the ad for the protest reads.
Democratic Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday that her office had been flooded with calls from residents who were outraged by the pending Amazon deal. She also questioned who would truly benefit from -- and who would pay for -- the transformation the company touted.
“Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday.
New York Democratic assemblyman Ron Kim vowed to introduce legislation that would redirect the city’s economic development subsidies to buying up and canceling student debt, Splinter News reported, effectively blocking Gov. Cuomo from offering taxpayer money to Amazon.
In a statement, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos painted the selection of two major East Coast cities as a means of keeping the company competitive when it comes to talent. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“We are excited to build new headquarters in New York City and Northern Virginia,” Bezos said in the statement. “These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come. The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”
The prospect of a rise in housing costs — in two cities known for scarce affordable housing — is a chief concern for many. Since Amazon’s arrival, Seattle has become one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, forcing lower-income residents to move to far-off suburbs.
Even those in areas that would benefit indirectly from the deal were put off by the company’s song-and-dance since the search for HQ2 was announced last year.
“Of course Jersey City would benefit if it’s in NY but I still feel this entire Amazon process was a big joke just to end up exactly where everyone guessed at the start,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted the day before the deal was announced.
“Amazon demanded subsidies and terms from cities all over the country, demanded those terms be kept secret, then reneged on its promise to locate thousands of jobs,” executive director of the Open Markets Institute Barry Lynn said in a statement. “Amazon is now treating even the biggest of American cities with the same disrespect it shows for the suppliers and the merchants who depend on its website to reach customers.”
Some consolation prizes were doled out amid the backlash, with Amazon announcing it would make Nashville a new Center For Excellence for its operations business, which is responsible for the company’s customer fulfillment, transportation, supply chain and other activities. Amazon said this will bring 5,000 jobs to Nashville.