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December 9, 2018

See the Amazon opportunity: The second-guessing may be healthy, but let’s be honest about what New York will be gaining

November 20, 2018
Special delivery. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

Only in fast-talking New York City could the announcement of a multi-billion-dollar investment — in this case, the decision by Amazon to build a headquarters in Queens — spur protests and bitter denunciations by many of the same politicians who’d signed a letter in 2017 asking Amazon to locate here in the first place.

Only in progressive New York could self-professed socialist champions of the working class cavalierly dismiss the prospect of 25,000 to 40,000 new jobs and huffily ask how much all that employment might cost taxpayers.




But the sensible silent majority of New York will — I hope — focus on what matters most: helping thousands of families get a chance at a stable job with decent benefits, a shot at homeownership and a way to put kids through college.

It is true that the bulldozers will make noise and that the subways in Long Island City will be more crowded. There is a good chance that a well-known diner or beloved bodega may not survive. Apartment rents will increase.

It is also true that the process of attracting job-creating corporations to our city often means providing public support to companies that are already successful. That’s a sensible alternative to, say, gambling public money on an untested start-up.

Big projects raise big questions. People of a certain age remember the ferocious fight over building the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, which displaced more than 1,300 businesses in “Radio Row,” a cluster of electronics shops on and near Cortlandt St. that employed 30,000 people.

Critics pointed out — accurately — that the Port Authority, the developer of the site, was only slated to pay real estate taxes on the portion of the WTC it was housed in rather than the entire site it owned, effectively shifting the tax burden to local businesses.

Conflicts of interest abounded. The business consortium pushing the project was led by David Rockefeller of Chase Bank and supported by his brother, then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The wealthy family owned a great deal of property in Lower Manhattan that would soar in value once the WTC was built.

In 1966, the area’s state assemblyman, Louis DeSalvio, an opponent, suggested that the Twin Towers be donated to NASA. “They could wrap a rubber band around the two of them and use it as a slingshot to send a man to the moon,” he quipped.

Critics had every right to question the WTC. Likewise, today’s skepticism of the Amazon deal is understandable and even welcome.

But let’s not lose sight of the main goal. “Amazon is committing to an annual payroll of over $3.75 billion annually within 10 years — far and away the state’s largest economic development transaction in modern history,” Gov. Cuomo wrote in an Op-Ed published on the state’s website.

“We could have decided not to compete or we could have lost. In either case, the criticism would have been worse and it would have hurt more — because it would have been true. New York would have lost out on a tremendous growth and economic opportunity.”

The Amazon project will generate a large demand for tech workers, as well as support and service personnel, from cooks and cleaners to security and maintenance staff. The company’s memorandum of understanding with the state includes a commitment to training, hiring and contracting with minority communities and businesses.

New York’s community colleges, along with job-training and placement groups, should be front and center in defining how best to connect working-class families with the jobs Amazon will create.

Making sure that New Yorkers get trained to seek, hold and grow in good jobs may not attract headlines the way a protest or lawsuit will. But it’s the best and most responsible way to move forward.

Louis is political anchor of NY1 News.




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