It's Official: Amazon Chooses Northern Virginia, NYC for Split HQ2

November 13, 2018

By Carlo Versano

The backlash was swift after Amazon announced on Tuesday morning that it will split its second unbuilt headquarters and up to 50,000 full-time jobs between two locations: Long Island City, in Queens, N.Y., and the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va, just outside the nation's capital.

Local officials in New York were split, with some ー including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio ー heaping praise on the company.

Others, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and soon-to-be Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, questioned why New York was handing over nearly $2 billion in incentives to a company with a market cap of close to $1 trillion to build an office in the same county that houses the world's largest housing project. On Twitter, NYC residents griped about the toll the new campus would take on the 7 subway line, which connects L.I.C. to Manhattan and is among the most crowded in the already-overtaxed system. There were reports that real-estate brokers were already selling condos in the glassy skyscrapers that dot the Queens waterfront sight unseen, over text message.

Eric Gertler, a former VP of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and consigliere to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told Cheddar that Amazon's move to Queens illustrates that corporations now follow talent ー instead of the other way around. "We're living in a global competition for talent," he said.

Additionally, the thousands of new tech jobs would have a "multiplying effect," in Gertler's estimation ーmore cashiers, waiters, janitors to support the Amazon workforce ー even though they'd obviously be a lower-paid workforce. "That economic development will have a profound effect on New York for many years to come."

Gertler said that cities like New York have an obligation to tackle urban crises like income inequality, affordable housing, and crumbling infrastructure, but that can coexist with promoting the city as a hub for tech and innovation.

Amazon's decision capped a 14-month nationwide spectacle, unusual for the relatively quotidian world of office leasing, in which dozens of cities lobbied to be chosen for "HQ2" and the thousands of high-paying, highly-skilled jobs that would follow. From Atlanta to Denver to Birmingham, Ala., local officials had hoped a major presence from one of the world's most valuable companies would be a panacea for economic development.

But in the end, Amazon chose two of the metropolitan areas that need it least, Washington, D.C, and New York City, due to the strength of their talent pools, desirability for residents, and infrastructure. For the New York campus, Amazon will receive more than $1.5 billion in direct incentives from the city and state, according to the announcement. That amounts to an average tax subsidy of $48,000 for each of the 25,000 jobs. Gertler noted that the bulk of the incentives came in refundable tax credits tied to the creation and retention of jobs.

The Virginia campus ー soon to be built in the Crystal City neighborhood that Amazon is now re-branding as "National Landing"ー will receive direct incentives of $573 million. At both locations, the new jobs will offer salaries above $150,000 on average, the company said.

Amazon said it would invest $5 billion in the split offices over nearly two decades. It also made the surprise announcement that it would build an operations center in Nashville, Tenn., which would bring 5,000 jobs to that city.

"Nashville certainly was the wild card," said Keiko Morris, a commercial real estate reporter at The Wall Street Journal who has been closely following the HQ2 search. She told Cheddar in a separate interview that Dallas was the front-runner for the back-office location that Nashville eventually won.

"It's a big deal for these cities," she said. "It's a huge boost."

In Virginia, the deal is expected to be a boon for JBG SMITH Properties ($JBGS), a commercial developer that has been amassing real estate in Crystal City.

Hiring at both locations will begin in 2019, Amazon said.

For full interview click here.