New York Fights – and Amazon flees

Protesters protest against Amazon on February 14, 2019 in Long Island City, Queens. (Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)

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That was weird.

Amazon has ended its plan to build one of its two new headquarters in Long Island City less than three months after it announced it – a deal that had fierce, if completely predictable, opposition to public subsidies bypassing the world’s richest man in the billions sparked public scrutiny processes, ensuring fewer promises for low-income job seekers, and rewarding a company with a lousy work record, creepy role in big data, and some obnoxious dealings with federal law enforcement.

“After much deliberation and deliberation, we decided not to proceed with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to building a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local government elected officials who will provide long-term support, ”Amazon said in a statement first published by the New York Times. “While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investments, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they will oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the kind of relationships that are for The future is needed with the project we and many others have planned in Long Island City. ”

This article was produced in collaboration with City Limits, a news site about urban affairs in New York City.

Amazon should locate 25,000 employees in Queens and pay them an average of $ 150,000 a year. In return, the city and state would provide more than $ 3 billion in subsidies, mostly through automatic job creation incentives. $ 500 million would come from state discretionary grants. The state’s involvement meant Amazon was able to bypass the city’s typical process of verifying public land disposal, a seven-month mechanism called “ULURP,” in favor of an easier way called a general project plan. Governor Andrew Cuomo said economic analysis showed the deal generated $ 27 billion in tax revenue over a 10-year period.

A deal expires

The tide against the deal began to shift two weeks ago after a disastrous city council hearing. During the hearing, representatives from Amazon stated that the company would not remain neutral if workers from Queens attempted to unionize – and added on the announcement that the company would remove 30 employees from a public housing complex near the proposed HQ2- Site would add an embarrassing fanfare. The 30 hires – out of a total of 700 hires Amazon wanted to make this year – represented a fraction of the 7,000 people living in Queensbridge. “Thirty jobs, are you kidding me?” said councilor Jimmy Van Bramer, according to City & State.

Shortly after the hearing, the Senate appointed a top critic, Queens Democrat Mike Gianaris, to a state body, the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), that could potentially have blocked the deal. Cuomo, who had defended the decision to bypass ULURP by promising that the PACB would look into the deal, suggested that he could skip that minimal review himself as it might be impractical.

Then, last week, a rumor circulated that Amazon was considering retreating – a clear shot over the enemy’s bow. When opponents didn’t weaken at the knees, Amazon apparently started packing up its plans (although there are still 5,000 workers in the city and says it plans to keep growing).

Current topic

Proponents of the agreement were quick to accuse opponents of murdering the chance to create well-paying jobs that would fund progressive policies and cement New York’s place as the tech industry’s east coast anchor. “Well done anti-capitalists,” said Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican member of the Staten Island Congregation. “The elected officials who fought Amazon with no flexibility have just lost more than 25,000 high-paying jobs for their constituents and the people of New York City.”

Cuomo reiterated these allegations, tweeting, “A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community – one poll after another found that the overwhelming majority of Amazon was brought to Long Island City – the state’s economic future and welfare of the people in this state. “He added,” The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. You should be held accountable for this missed economic opportunity. ”

Opponents of the deal boasted of victory. “Make no mistake: A strong and effective community organization wrecked Amazon’s $ 3 billion backroom deal,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

“The Amazon deal was a mess: $ 3 billion in subsidies to a trillion dollar company pushed through by two men who thought the community’s commitment was a joke,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, a former city council spokeswoman who is now campaigning for the public. “So bring local residents and stakeholders to the table before you win.”

There is no question that Amazon encountered real anger and that the efforts to oppose the deal have been well organized and aggressive. However, by New York standards, the response to Amazon has not been particularly violent. This is a city where a three foot wide bike path can trigger years of sharpness.

Without taking anything away from the opposition, the fact that the company was pulling out after some easily anticipated resistance might suggest that it didn’t do us that much at all, or that it simply wasn’t suited to living in a city where it was wouldn’t always find its way A clearly irritated Bill de Blasio, who has lost progress due to his role in the deal and now no longer has an HQ2, said so in his statement on the withdrawal: “You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the largest city in the world, ”he said. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon missed this opportunity.”

What now?

“This is a huge win for New Yorkers and should mark a turning point in New York’s approach to economic development,” said Andrew Morrison of the New Economy Project. “Instead of top-down decisions and massive giveaways for destructive companies like Amazon, our city and state should invest in economic development led by and for people and communities of color, immigrants and women – disproportionate to our current injustice raw materials economy are damaged. ”

Indeed, it is time to look ahead. Whether you blame the opponents or blame them for terminating the deal, or whether you blame it for unfathomable decisions by the company and whether you are pleased or pissed that the deal is dead, the question is, what happens now.

There are four things to think about when the joy or anger at today’s news wears off.

  1. The Amazon deal was bad, but the city needs to further diversify its economy away from Wall Street. Tech is already playing a role in this, and is likely to continue to do so. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that some of the concerns Amazon has been pursuing – about its labor practices, its position on privacy laws, its trade in sketchy technology – could apply to other tech companies that employ thousands of New Yorkers. If these firms settle here or expand here without public subsidies, the equation will be different: New York isn’t going to bend back to start a problematic business, but don’t think that problems like technician labor rights will go away just because Jeff Bezos will move his helipad elsewhere.
  2. As noted above, the subsidies Amazon was supposed to receive were largely “by law” which means they would have qualified for them whether or not de Blasio and Cuomo signed up. A deal as big as this is unlikely to come off anytime soon, so the dollar numbers for future incentive packages won’t be as high as they were for HQ2, but if the principle of giving employers tax breaks is offensive then these ace must be -of-right programs to be reformed. If the tax environment of the state is really an obstacle to business growth – and the enormous profits to the economy in recent years indicate otherwise – we need to change the system, not tinker with it deal by deal.
  3. The issues with the public review don’t just affect the Amazon deal. Environmental audits cost a lot of money and seldom appear comprehensive to skeptics. Furthermore, ULURP does not provide any decisive power to municipalities or district presidents. The state approach that should be used here, the general project plan, is obviously problematic as well, as it appeared that it was up to the governor to decide whether a state agency had the right to deliberate. Finding a Better Way to Smarter Doctrine Reviewing development projects – weighing local, community voices against citywide and statewide needs – is just as important today as it was when Amazon was on our way.
  4. After all, the great concern about jobs at Amazon – that they would primarily benefit New Yorkers who would come in and price the current residents out of their neighborhood – to some extent reflected flaws in the way the city treats children Workplace and adults prepared for new careers. This is not a new problem. It is one that many bright people and groups, like the New York Employment and Education Coalition, have pondered and campaigned about for years.

Opportunities will arrive in the city. There are huge segments of the population with the drive and talent but not yet the technical skills to take advantage of them. With the Amazon deal off the table, now is the time to put in place a really robust system to get people like the Queensbridge Houses residents on a track where they can get these types of jobs. Maybe even more than 30 of them next time.

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