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NYC economic development chief defends Amazon HQ2 deal amid backlash

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Amazon is bringing 25,000 high-paying tech jobs to New York City, and New York reportedly gave Amazon $1.5 billion in incentives to do it.

The official announcement finally came this week: Amazon will split its second headquarters between the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens in New York City, and Arlington, Va., outside Washington, D.C. (Amazon is also opening an operations center with 5,000 new jobs in Nashville, Tenn.) In New York, the news has been met by fierce criticism from many who fear rent prices will rise, the subway will get more crowded, and the fabric of Queens will fundamentally change.

But James Patchett, CEO of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, said Amazon will change Queens for the better.

“No company has seriously considered Queens, apart from JetBlue, as a potential corporate headquarters,” Patchett said on Yahoo Finance’s live Morning Meeting show on Thursday. “Having Amazon here changes the economic future of Queens. It changes the future of Queens residents. It also changes the future of the New York City economy. Our economy will be made stronger by having an additional central business district located in Long Island City.”

Patchett also suggests that Amazon coming to Queens is a way for New York to move beyond its Wall Street image: “We’ve traditionally been associated with the finance industry… But we need to begin thinking about the future. We have over 300,000 people in the city working in technology. Companies like Amazon are the companies of the future.”

Protesters gather in Long Island City to say ‘No’ to the Amazon ‘HQ2’ decision on November 14, 2018 in Long Island City, New York. – It’s exciting for some, worrisome for others: The arrival of a massive headquarters of technology giant Amazon in two East Coast communities is certain to bring huge changes. Amazon announced Tuesday after a yearlong search that it would split its ‘HQ2’ between Arlington, Virginia, outside the US capital, and the Long Island City neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens. (Don EMMERT/AFP/Getty)

‘Our subway is crumbling’

Outspoken elected officials in New York feel otherwise.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand put out a statement, “One of the wealthiest companies in history should not be receiving financial assistance from the taxpayers while too many New York families struggle to make ends meet.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected to Congress during the midterms, put out a tweetstorm criticizing the welcoming of Amazon during, “a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less.”

NYC official says the state is behind incentives

Although Patchett, a fiduciary of New York City, welcomes Amazon and supports the move, he also points to the state, not the city, as the primary mover in offering incentives and pushing to get Amazon.

“The state is the one who put the incentive package on the table,” Patchett said. “Their analysis shows that this is a 9-to-1 investment return for the state. That means the tax revenues coming out of this investment will be nine times the amount of incentives the state is putting in. From a city perspective, we did not put a single dime of discretionary tax incentives into this transaction. From the very beginning, the mayor said, New York City does not need to compete on incentives. We have incredible talent, incredible infrastructure, that is what is going to sell New York. And fundamentally, we stuck to that.”

Patchett also points to the media for at first not taking New York seriously as a candidate for HQ2, then rapidly shifting to criticism once Amazon announced it selected New York.

“I think it’s important to step back to what the media narrative was about this 12 months ago… No one took New York seriously,” he said. “No one thought that New York had a chance because of the high cost of doing business here. It was universally considered to be not a serious player for this. And I think the narrative has changed now, suddenly, to, ‘How could the state be offering incentives?'”