The Loss of Amazon Is a Loss for New York

Opponents of Amazon’s plan to create an expansive corporate campus in Queens were celebrating last Thursday, after the giant multinational e-commerce company announced it was backing out of the deal.

The merriment was a sign of severe shortsightedness, born of a misguided sense of “social progress.” The loss of Amazon is a loss for New York.

The city stood to gain 25,000 jobs, and an estimated $27 billion in tax revenue over the next two decades, had the company followed through with its plan. Both New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — who are seldom on the same side of any issue pertinent to the city — had promoted the Queens site for Amazon, and loudly welcomed the company’s now-rescinded decision to establish itself in New York.

Many local residents in the area where the sprawling campus was planned were excited by the prospect of the large number of employment opportunities the hub’s creation would bring, and business leaders were also enthusiastic over the peripheral benefits that would likely be brought to the region.

In its announcement that it was not moving forward with its plans, Amazon thanked the governor and mayor, and the large number of New Yorkers who supported the move, but averred that “the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”

The less than supportive officials who opposed the deal included New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who decried what he called the “vulture capitalism” that led to the now-dumped agreement; State Senator Michael Gianaris, who heads the Public Authorities Control Board; and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a district in Queens near what had been the Amazon site. She called the decision a victory over “corporate greed” and over the retail giant’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, and decried the company’s “worker exploitation.”

The naivety of Representative Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described “democratic socialist,” regarding how capitalism works and benefits society wasn’t limited to political philosophy. She had her facts wrong as well, claiming that $3 billion in subsidies that had been offered Amazon could now be used to hire teachers, fix the subway and “put a lot of people to work.” The carrot held out to Amazon was, overwhelmingly, a tax break, not a subsidy.

But even a tax break that would eventually translate into many times itself in tax revenues was objectionable to “progressives,” who seemed less concerned about “the people” — polls showed broad public consensus for the Amazon move — than about what they imagine to be the inherent social injustice of providing incentives to successful companies.

But it is neither just nor progressive — in the word’s simple meaning — to oppose business growth that would benefit both skilled and simple laborers, enabling them to make livings and support families.

Queens Councilman Erich Ulrich put it clearly. “Amazon had big plans in store for the borough of Queens,” he said, “and we blew it!”

“They were going to invest in our future,” he added, in a statement, “hire locally, contribute to the community, and make the greatest city in the world even greater.”

And, looking to the future, he added, “This sets a bad precedent moving forward and will deter other companies from setting up shop in our city.”

That concern was shared by Kathryn S. Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group, who said the reception Amazon had received sent a “pretty bad message to the job creators” of the city and the world.

They are right. Business concerns face many obstacles in relocating or expanding to a new area, and companies that might be considering moving to New York will be discouraged by how much time and effort was put into the Amazon deal, to no ultimate avail.

Amazon will now focus on its existing tech hubs, which include large outposts in cities like Boston, Austin and Vancouver, as well as smaller ones in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

And on its other choices for new major hubs, in Northern Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to carry out his state’s promise of up to $750 million in incentives if Amazon, as planned, creates some 38,000 jobs in Arlington County.

Tennessee is providing Amazon a $65 million cash grant for capital expenditures and $21.7 million in job tax credits to offset state taxes while the city is chipping in $15 million worth of other incentives. Nashville is expecting the company to create 5,000 high-paying corporate jobs.

Not everyone, it seems, shares the illusory “progressive” values of some New York politicians. Some officials recognize that hosting major businesses in their localities ultimately benefits all of the region’s residents.