Reprinted with permission from Creators.
When Amazon chose a Queens neighborhood across from Manhattan for one of its new headquarters, James Corden remarked on “The Late Late Show,” “I gotta say, I really think this could be the thing that finally puts New York on the map.”
That was a joke. New York is already the capital of finance, media, fashion, art and advertising. Does it need tech, too? Actually, it already has tech. More than 320,000 tech workers toil in New York. Google, meanwhile, plans to double its employment in the city, to nearly 20,000. The Amazon move will add 25,000 new high-paying jobs.
The decision to split the second headquarters between New York City and affluent northern Virginia, a center for the federal government and the future home of a big Virginia Tech campus, points to what should be a disturbing trend: The rich regions are getting richer faster.
Amazon’s drawn-out search for another command post to rival the home base in Seattle appears to have been a stunt. The company had officials from 238 cities across the country working their tails off to attract the online behemoth. Being chosen could have been a game changer for some on its list of 20 finalists, such as Columbus, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
We understand. Amazon wanted a place with lots of tech talent and a big international airport. Wouldn’t Dallas, with lower taxes and room to grow, have fit the bill? Splitting the prize between two metropolises on the East Coast was not especially groundbreaking.
Amazon’s move to direct major growth beyond Seattle reportedly reflects its difficulty in finding enough tech workers there. The company was also being blamed for some of the area’s rocketing rents and home prices. But Amazon continues to add jobs in Seattle nonetheless. (Meanwhile, Seattle’s housing costs look like a bargain next to New York’s.)
It would seem that the North American continent is being tipped over to pour more of the wealth into a few superstar cities. The new tax law may make this trend only more extreme.
Riches from the $1.5 trillion tax cuts are largely raining down on America’s stock investors. In the United States, the wealthiest 10 percent now hold 84 percent of stocks. Next year, more than half the benefits of the tax reforms will be going to the top 5 percent of taxpayers. And where do said taxpayers hang out? The big-money cities.
There’s a political angle, as well. Even the finalists in red or purplish states — such as Austin, Dallas, Columbus, Denver and Miami — have liberal, cosmopolitan cultures. Giant corporations don’t want to operate in places where dark-skinned foreigners and non-heterosexuals, many of them employees, are likelier to get harassed.
Raleigh, for example, is a great modern city. But it is burdened by the culture war splitting North Carolina along rural-urban lines. Headlines about “bathroom bills” barring transgender people from restrooms matching their gender identity are unhelpful.
In the Amazon competition’s winning cities, many locals have taken to griping. Some complain, with justification, about the tax incentives offered a fabulously rich company. They’re worried about what an influx of affluent techies will do to their culture — their warehouse districts, funky bars and relatively affordable housing. And the biggie concern is congestion. New York City is already removing seats from subway cars so it can stuff more commuters in at rush hour.
Not many places would look askance at an offer of thousands of new jobs paying an average of over $150,000 a year. That’s a luxury that the “haves” have. And it looks all the time as if the haves are getting more.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.