Amazon exploring potential alternatives to New York HQ


Following Friday's Washington Post report, Crain's Chicago Business reported that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had already reached out to Amazon officials asking them to reconsider Chicago as an HQ2 location.

"The question is whether it's worth it if the politicians in NY don't want the project, especially with how people in Virginia and Nashville have been so welcoming", one person familiar with Amazon's plans told The Washington Post.

Unlike in Virginia and Tennessee, where legislators emphatically approved and incentivized the building of Amazon HQ with millions of dollars in project investments, a group of NY legislators and unions are banding together in disapproval.

Fearful of losing almost $3 billion in subsidies for its expansion in New York City, Amazon has moved to a new strategy, one involving threats. The state gave them massive tax breaks to try to keep them around, gutting the local government's budget and shifting to burden to the taxpayers, but the company wound up nearly entirely leaving anyway. Amazon has said it will turn its $2.5 billion investment into an incremental tax revenue of more than $10 billion over the next 20 years. "I think defeating an unprecedented act of corporate welfare is absolutely a victory".

Finally, at a City Council meeting last week, the company refused to agree to remain neutral if Amazon workers attempted unionization in New York City, a red flag for a labor-friendly city. "Don't know if they are actually thinking of leaving NY".

What appears to have happened here is that Amazon paid more attention to the incentives offered by NY than in making sure that the neighborhood they planned to occupy was a proper fit. Such uproar has stood in contrast with the company's reception in Virginia, which has been largely friendly. On Monday, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins chose Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents Long Island City, and one of the biggest critics of the Amazon deal, as one of three members of the board.

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They've questioned whether its "worth it" to build the campus if NY politicians are opposed, one source told the Post.

But the company has not made the decision to withdraw, and the discussions could be seen as a threat to quiet the opposition.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It must be approved unanimously by the state Public Authorities Control Board. In Seattle, executives on multiple teams have been notified they'd have to relocate to NY, two other people said. What started as a virtual celebration of Amazon's prominence has transformed into condemnation over a big company using its clout to extract taxpayer dollars and disrupt communities.

"We're focused on engaging with our new neighbors-small-business owners, educators, and community leaders", an Amazon spokeswoman told Barron's in an email message. "Whether it's building a pipeline of local jobs through workforce training or funding computer science classes for thousands of New York City students, we are working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbour we will be".

Last year Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Post, promised an investment of $5 billion and over 50,000 jobs between Queens and Arlington.

More broadly, the Amazon farce has shone a spotlight on the sordid process of economic development deals, which cost cities and states up to $90 billion annually while local services suffer from a lack of funds.