Commentary: More than a year ago, when Amazon announced its intention to create a second headquarters somewhere in North America — equal in size and function and headcount to what it has in its Seattle hometown — I warned the salivating would-be suitors to be careful what they wished for.
That warning was focused on what a city such as Denver or Austin or Raleigh or Nashville or 234 others — should one prevail in Jeff Bezos’s hunger games — could expect by way of changes in everything from housing affordability to traffic congestion to disruption of civic identity.
Much to no one’s surprise, my September 2017 advice went unheeded. In the ensuing months, bids to be the home of HQ2 rolled in and an embarrassing spectacle played out from coast to coast, as politicians and business leaders promised everything from huge tax breaks to name changes for municipalities. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo even joked that he would change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” if that’s what it took to land the tech giant and its promise of 50,000 jobs.
Cuomo’s state ultimately succeeded in getting half of what it set out to land when Amazon announced in November that New York City and Northern Virginia would both be getting
headquarters large remote offices in the much-ballyhooed HQ2 sweepstakes.
Fast forward all of three months and Amazon is no longer going to set up shop in the Long Island City section of Queens. The company shocked the Big Apple and pretty much everyone else east of Lake Washington by saying it didn’t like the way some state and local politicians were pushing back against its deal to do business in New York. Thanks for the promise of $3 billion in government incentives, but … buh bye.
A day after huffing that Amazon wasn’t “tough” enough for New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio still seemed confused about how to react to what just happened. He called what transpired on Thursday “astounding” and “disappointing” and said it was “disrespectful” to the people of New York.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” de Blasio said in an an interview Friday morning. “Why did they even bother to choose New York City if they didn’t even want to be a part of New York City and do the work it takes to be a good neighbor?”
Oh, Mr. Mayor. With all due respect. You were warned. Feigning shock over the way Amazon does business after falling all over yourself to woo Amazon, and ignoring months of red flags being waved from Seattle … well, that doesn’t make you look tough, it just makes you look silly. And unread. The internet reaches New York, right?
The activists and politicians being blamed, or championed, for scuttling HQNYC at least took the time to listen. Remember when Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold visited New York last month to share their version of war stories? They brought their account of a Seattle affordability and homelessness crisis, and held up last summer’s head tax battle in the city as an example of how Amazon reacts when political pressure is applied.
Amazon said in January, as backlash grew louder in New York, that it was “engaging in a long-term listening and engagement process” so that it could better understand what the concerns were in Queens. “We’re committed to being a great neighbor — and ensuring our new headquarters is a win for all New Yorkers.”
A month later they were done listening and done being committed. And done with New York. The “everything store” would certainly have had access to plenty of moving boxes had it bothered to move in at all.
Shock and blame — and of course, rejuvenated suitors — came from all corners after Amazon’s decision. In a series of tweets, the urbanist Richard Florida said the tech giant had shown its “true colors.”
But in Seattle — where we can’t seem to get Frank Sinatra’s classic out of our heads — we felt obliged to start spreadin’ the news 16 months ago about what could go wrong in an Amazon courtship. And on Thursday there was less shock and more awww.
Hang in there, New York. Your little town blues will melt away soon.