Commentary

Questions Abound As Amazon Confirms Its Second HQ Choices

The second-guessing and questions began long before Amazon confirmed yesterday that it would split its “second headquarters” between Arlington, Va. and New York’s Long Island City — with Nashville, Tenn. also picking up 5,000 or so jobs at a new “Operations Center of Excellence” — but they intensified once the news was officially released.

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For the winners, there’s the issue of whether the long-term return will match their investment. “A $2 Billion Question: Did New York and Virginia Overpay for Amazon?” asks the New York Times.

“New York and Virginia collectively offered more than $2 billion in tax credits, rebates and other incentives to attract the company. That figure doesn’t include what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure spending, worker training and other government assistance,” explains Ben Casselman.

“Economists have long criticized tax incentives as inefficient and unnecessary, arguing that they pit cities or states against each other and leave less money for education and public works that ultimately do more to lift local economies and improve livelihoods,” Casselman continues, advancing the hypothesis that “governments often end up paying businesses to do what they would have done anyway.”

Or, as Greg LeRoy, executive director of nonprofit research group Good Jobs First, told Time, “There’s no such thing as free growth.” 

“While Amazon was always open about hoping for an attractive incentive package, some losing jurisdictions were willing to dole out billions more in subsides than the eventual winners did. New Jersey, for one, offered some $7 billion. Maryland offered $8.5 billion,” reportsTime’s Katy Steinmetz.

Amazon had questions of its own, according to another NYT headline that leads the paper this morning — namely whether New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio could overcome their acrimonious relationship long enough to make the deal happen. Amazon executives met separately with the two leaders one day in late October and evidently concluded that the lure of about 25,000 jobs was a sufficient incentive.

But some “concerned residents” and politicians from the impacted neighborhoods disagree and reacted with “outrage,”  Alyssa Newcomb reports for NBC News

For many of the losing municipalities drawn into the jobs-bounty pageant more than a year ago, there was a sense of “what just happened?”

“My heart is broken today,” said Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings “at a news conference that seemed more like a wake,”  write Laura Stevens and Shayndi Raice for the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “How Amazon Picked HQ2 and Jilted 236 Cities.”

“Amazon kept many of the cities in the dark through much of the roughly 14-month selection process, frustrating some government officials. Seventeen finalists leave empty-handed, despite spending a collective fortune on proposals, data and site visits,” they write.

Indeed, USA Today’s headline asks: “Was Amazon's headquarters search ‘a giant ruse’? NYC, D.C. centers of power prevail.” 

Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and source of the ruse quote, also said the selection of Nashville “is ‘a head-fake’ that will fool ‘many journalists’ into not applying appropriate scrutiny to the online giant,” reports Nathan Bomey. “Amazon, she said on Twitter, is a monopoly that will use the new headquarters to extend its influence over the news media capital of New York and the center of government in D.C.,” Bomey adds.

“The big prize #Amazon has gotten out of its #HQ2 stunt is not the PR value of a bunch of city leaders singing its praises, or even the billions of $ in subsidies that it will extort from public coffers,” Mitchell also tweeted. “It’s the data.”

The Boston Globe’s hed asked, “Was Boston just not big enough for Amazon?” The company already is responsible for about 2,000 jobs in the area, and Tim Logan’s story looked at both sides of the loss.

“From one perspective, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Boston and the surrounding communities hoping to land the new headquarters, said C.A. Webb, president of the Kendall Square Association and a longtime leader in Boston’s tech community. 'The city could have used the momentum of Amazon’s anticipated $5 billion investment to address long-festering challenges of housing and transportation,'” Logan writes.

“At the same time, [Webb] said, it’s a relief. Tech companies that are growing here don’t have to worry about Amazon hiring away their workers, and home prices probably won’t soar even higher.”

Meanwhile, tech workers in New York and the D.C. metro areas are probably asking, as the headline about Jack Pointer’s piece for WTOP puts it: “When can you apply? FAQs about working at Amazon’s new N.Va. HQ”

As for HQ1, the Seattle Times asks, “Will Amazon’s HQ2 sink Seattle’s housing market?” 

There was a time when many publications banned using question marks in headlines, but that practice has gone the way of shopping at the mall. 

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