Amazon smile turns into Big Apple frown

For so many dreamers, it’s the gold standard for achievement: making it big in the Big Apple, showing you’ve got what it takes to survive and thrive in New York City.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/02/2019 (1567 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For so many dreamers, it’s the gold standard for achievement: making it big in the Big Apple, showing you’ve got what it takes to survive and thrive in New York City.

As Ol’ Blue Eyes himself once crooned, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Alas, for Amazon — the massive online retailer whose creation and rapid growth spawned the world’s wealthiest human — all those gossamer dreams of Gothamite corporate conquest have fallen to dust. On Thursday, the Seattle-based company announced it has abandoned its plan to build part of its much-ballyhooed second headquarters (known during the frenzied city-search bid process as HQ2) in New York City.

The reason for the pullout, simply put, was resistance, from politicians, protesters and union officials who objected to the nearly US$3 billion in financial and tax incentives Amazon had demanded and was promised in return for choosing N.Y.C. as a site for its spinoff corporate campus (the company still has HQ-expansion plans for northern Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Nashville).

“After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a prepared statement, which also said, “A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned.”

Bebeto Matthews / The Associated Press FILES A protester holds up a sign during an anti-Amazon rally in New York.

It’s a long way from the continent-wide frenzy that was created late in 2017 when Amazon announced it was seeking a site for its HQ2, which was touted as an unparalleled economic opportunity for the “winning” city, a development worth US$5 billion that might ultimately employ 50,000 people earning average salaries exceeding US$100,000.

Winnipeg was one of many communities to hastily prepare a bid for the big prize, employing a “Team Manitoba” approach to trumpet the city’s considerable business-climate charms.

Realistically, however, Winnipeg failed to tick the boxes of most of Amazon’s must-have requirements — population base over one million, ease of transportation access and the ability to “think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options” — and it was no surprise when the Manitoba capital was left off the “Top 20” candidates list last year.

What generated as much conversation and debate as the potential economic windfall of being chosen as the HQ2 city, however, was the audacious set of demands on which the successful bidder would be expected to deliver — tax credits and incentives, relocation grants, fee reductions and other financial concessions, adding up to billions of dollars.

The price tag was too rich for Winnipeg and the vast majority of other centres that briefly grasped, and then quickly let loose of, Amazon-sized aspirations; it didn’t take long for the local business community to accept that reality and refocus on more attainable, affordable and satisifying economic-development activities.

What’s interesting, however, is that history will now show that in asking for the figurative moon, Amazon overshot even the realistic fiscal limits of the self-proclaimed greatest city in the world. Despite the eagerness of some N.Y.C. politicians to bend to the online retailer’s whims, the billions demanded by HQ2’s promoters sparked a backlash that could not — by New York’s lawmakers or by Amazon — be ignored.

All that was left on Thursday was for Amazon to start spreading the news, that it was leaving today.

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