Valentine’s Day in 2019 will be remembered as the day Amazon broke up with New York City, or was it the other way around?
For a strong democratic town like New York, with homogeneous liberal leanings, the Amazon HQ2 fight was unusually divisive, pitting the pro-business wing of the state’s Democratic Party led by Governor Cuomo against shiny new progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Corey Johnson.
It would appear that the progressives won the battle, at an eye-popping economic cost of $27 billion by Governor Cuomo’s estimate.
But a win is a win.
And a win is especially significant when it contravenes public opinion.
In a HarrisX poll commissioned by Amazon, 85% of New York voters believed that it was very or somewhat likely that Amazon’s HQ2 would create good jobs for New Yorkers and Queens residents. Roughly seven-in-ten NYC registered voters (69%) approve of HQ2, including 80% of Queens residents.
Other polls including one by Quinnipiac tagged support for Amazon at 60%.
In Trump’s America, however, polls are secondary. New York’s resurgent progressives and their supporters DO NOT believe in the Amazon hype and they DEFINITELY do not believe in the polling data.
The progressive world view is corporations like Amazon have taken more than their fair share while governments and the lower/middle-class languished — this is a reasonable word view.
Jeff Bezos’ status as a billionaire was a constant sticking point. One political commentator took pains to calculate the number of years a New Yorker with a $50K annual salary would have to work (assuming 100% savings rate) to accumulate one billion dollars. The answer: 20,000 years. Yes, billionaires are tiresome and impossible to relate with.
Despite the allure of tens of thousands of Amazon tech jobs, and possibly hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs over a 15-year period, progressives were unimpressed by the economic value of HQ2 to the City’s residents. Their message was extraordinary unified:
Progressives will no longer support just ANY jobs.
Specifically, a behemoth like Amazon should guarantee well-paying jobs (this wasn’t a conspicuous issue for Amazon), do not displace local communities, do not displace local businesses, provide billions of infrastructure and affordable housing investments, are union-friendly and do not require Government subsidies.
And above all, they have to be jobs that New Yorkers will be hired into.
The what’s-in-it-for-me cropped up again and again in social media and news sites comments penned by Amazon opponents: great that Amazon is offering $150k/year, but will I get a chance of getting those jobs?
It was self-interest at its most naked, but it was a question a small group of ambitious politicians parlayed with great effect into faux outrage.
Thus the unraveling began. No company, not even Amazon, can promise that its talent will be exclusively sourced from one locality. If Seattle’s experience is instructive, Long Island City will indeed see a huge influx of new residents: Amazon employees and their families, as well as those working for companies relocating to be close to Amazon.
While New York City has an extremely large talent pool — over 7,000 computer science graduates a year vs 2,000 for the San Francisco Bay Area — Amazon will want the best of the best — so again, it is fair to assume that a fair share of the company’s new hires will come from the Stanfords, Berkeleys, MITs, Carnegie Mellons and Cambridge/Oxfords of the world.
So the progressives are probably correct in their assessment that many of Amazon’s new workers will come from outside New York.
This, more than any other factor, was a deal breaker. Would you allow strangers to come to your town and take over?
So the “most progressive” politicians in one of the most progressive cities in America did what any community under siege would do:
They built a wall and kept the outsiders out.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are my own and do not express the views or opinions of any organization with which I may be affiliated.