Gov. Andrew Cuomo deserves great credit, not endless second-guessing, for bringing Amazon to Long Island City. Amazon’s choice of New York for a new headquarters is something all New Yorkers should welcome. The armchair critics who find fault with this decision fail to recognize that in today’s highly competitive economic environment, states and localities must fight for every job-producing opportunity. New York cannot and should not cede the field to other states and simply rest on its laurels. That’s a recipe for stagnation and decline not worthy of the Empire State.
Consider what Amazon’s decision will mean. It will bring 25,000 new high-tech jobs paying an average of $150,000 to the New York area, with total payroll growing to over $3.75 billion over the next decade. Other high-tech companies will be encouraged to migrate to New York, amplifying the economic impact.
The benefits will spread throughout the Long Island region, boosting job creation in construction and service businesses like restaurants, hotels and entertainment. Workers at all economic levels will find new, good-paying jobs. And the project will help revitalize the entire old industrial Long Island City area, bringing it firmly into the new high-tech era. That’s not a bad deal for New York; it’s a great one.
Our top-notch higher education facilities will also thrive and grow with Amazon’s presence. One of the reasons Amazon picked New York was because we have world-class high-tech research university centers here. Young New York college grads from these schools who might have been attracted to other states will instead stay and contribute to New York’s economy, spending and paying taxes here.
So why is there any dispute about the new headquarters, which many other states aggressively competed for and would have warmly welcomed? It’s simply not fair to harp on the so-called “cost” to New York of the incentives that were extended to Amazon to win this competition.
If New York had lost the contest, it would have lost a huge economic benefit. And as Cuomo has correctly pointed out, other states offered Amazon far larger incentive packages. New York’s incentives should be viewed as investments in our future, much like other investments we make in infrastructure, like roads, bridges and airports.
It’s too easy to distort these investments by failing to recognize their long-term impact. This same criticism came up two decades ago, when Gov. George Pataki’s administration attracted computer chip manufacturers to upstate New York with tax and job-development incentives similar to those Cuomo offered Amazon. There’s now a thriving computer chip research and manufacturing economy in the Capital District, which has contributed significantly to the local and state economy and tax base.
As to questions about the impact of Amazon’s choice of New York on our housing and other costs of living, the best answer is to creatively encourage the private sector here to meet those needs. New York City housing policies, which already incentivize developers to add affordable housing to new apartment buildings, are a good start, and should be expanded. Further easing of New York’s cumbersome and expensive bureaucratic red tape on construction would help, too. Let’s find new ways to build more housing without piling on needless costs.
And New York should double down on investing in its infrastructure. We have a huge need to rebuild transportation systems across the state. Our subways and commuter rail systems are long overdue for improvements. Our crumbling roads and bridges likewise cry out for repair. Investing in these transportation improvements will help support and attract even more high-tech companies to New York.
This is a time for all of our elected officials to band together in a bipartisan effort to direct needed financial resources toward the major projects that the New York region so badly needs. Our federal and state leaders should fight hard for this funding, both in Albany and Washington.
The next few years will require more bold leadership from Albany, not less. Every city in America that competed for Amazon HQ2 would feel blessed to deal with the challenges that a new economic development of this size involves. New York has grown, prospered and thrived on such change. Let’s not shrink from success now; let’s embrace and celebrate it.
My hat’s off to Cuomo for fighting for the chance to build Amazon’s new digs, and for winning the competition.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.