There are Right and Wrong Ways to Add Amazon to NYC

I’m not a fan of protectionism.

If I’m going to call it out when Donald Trump does it, trying to block the flow of free trade with tariffs, or block the flow of people through immigration bans, then I should be consistent about it on the local level. I would never say that one company shouldn’t be free to expand to a new city.

That being said, I don’t like paying people to do anything they were going to do anyway—and this is especially the case when it comes to economic incentives. It bothers me, for example, when condo builders get tax incentives to build luxury condos in NYC when it’s pretty clear you can still make plenty of money without them—and it’s not like they would pick up and start building condos in West Virginia if they got better tax treatment.

So when it comes to Amazon’s “HQ2a”, my hope is that NYC doesn’t break the bank offering the company lots of free stuff when it’s pretty clear that NYC has the most amazing talent pool on the east coast and is absolutely one of the most desirable places to live. I doubt the city really needed to offer them much in the way of anything to come here—so to be clear, I’m against spending taxpayer dollars to benefit big companies that don’t need the money.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want them here.

The presence of Amazon as a corporate participant in this ecosystem could be a big positive. For one, Amazon has the ability to attract talent from other places much like Google did when they first moved to NYC. Google was a net positive on the NYC tech ecosystem. No one works for big companies forever, so 3-4 years from now, we’ll start seeing Amazon talent hit the market, build companies, etc.

One argument I don’t buy into is “Amazon kills small businesses”. Amazon is a retailer—and any commodity item you’re buying on Amazon is, chances are, not something you normally buy from a small business. If anything, Amazon puts more stress on big box retailers. You’re buying things on Amazon you normally would have bought from Barnes & Noble or Best Buy. Sure, retailers take their pound of flesh when it comes to passing you on to their customer base—and that’s why so many business are trying to go the direct route—building online relationships with their own customers. There’s evidence, actually, that retailers that embrace experience are actually thriving in a world of Amazon. The number of indie bookstores, for example, has been growing for years. As it turns out, once Amazon killed off Barnes & Nobel, it created room for indie bookstores to return to the retail landscape, because it was bigger bookstores that were killing them, not specifically the internet.

I don’t mind an economic landscape where if I want to buy paper towel, Amazon sends it to me, but if I want to buy anything special whatsoever, I shop locally or directly with the brands I actually interact with.

One of the key questions people are asking is where all of these people are going to live, how they’re going to commute and what it’s going to do to existing economic inequality in the city.

These are real problems, that the local government hasn’t properly addressed for many years. We still don’t have a big enough housing solution, nor do we have adequate protections for the displacement that happens to certain neighborhoods during periods of economic growth. I would love to see the tech community work hard to lead the conversation on solutions we should adopt to make the growth of industry in NYC a positive and ethnically conscious force for change. I have no interest in seeing tech become the bad guy that it has in SF—but similarly, part of what’s going on there is a lack of will on behalf of the government to fix structural issues that tech is exacerbating.

I’m excited about the possibilities for Amazon in NYC—but cautious that our elected representatives will do the hard work to ensure they land in our community, not on it.