That was the big tech news today. I know there was a good deal of vocal outrage about the deal but to be honest I was pretty surprised by the news. Normally deals like these get steamrolled through for better or worse.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I have no problem with Amazon - I've got a bunch of former students working there. Mostly in Seattle but at least one in NYC. On the other hand there were a lot of things about the deal, none of them having to do specifically with Amazon as a company that made me very uneasy.
Let's go through these issues from minor to major.
First, I'm against special corporate incentives. In one ear I keep hearing that these were generic incentives are available to any company but in the other ear I keep hearing about special concessions for Amazon. I keep thinking about stadium and Olympic deals. Those are generally driven by politicians and money men with huge egos and from what I can tell they generally don't end up helping the little guy.
Next we have backroom politics. Like so much in New York, it certainly appeared that this was a back room Cuomo deal where the local communities weren't included in the process. It wreaks of Cuomo Hubris and ego.
Third we have all the jobs. A recent poll indicated that residents welcomed the fact that this deal would "create new jobs" but the truth is that it would "create new jobs for outsiders who will come in and replace you." This isn't a knock on Amazon but it's probably the truth. The history of hypergentrification is not one of uplifting the poor into the middle class. It's more like bring in the middle and upper class from other communities and displace the poor. This would likely be the case with this much demand for tech talent this quickly.
The local colleges, specifically CUNY will not be able to up the flow of tech graduates that quickly without a big infusion of resources and that's something that wasn't included in the deal. It's great that Amazon is supporting HS CS but tech companies aren't hiring kids out of high school with a single introductory experience like APCS-Principals.
Since New York will not be able to supply the software engineers on a dime the companies are going to bring them in from elsewhere. I remember talking to a tech executive a few years ago and he was telling me that he was going to have to "hire X software engineers in the next five years" and that while he "would love for them to be New Yorkers" he'd hire them from wherever he could get them.
Poor and working class people aren't all of a sudden going to be getting these high paying jobs. Sure, some will get into programs like Pursuit and get entry level coder jobs and the colleges will continue to produce what they're producing now and ramp up capacity as they are able but a lot of people who were here during the bad times are just going to be forced out.
At the end of the day most of this won't change a thing one way or the other. LIC is already on the upswing and rents are going through the roof. Companies will continue to need tech talent in NY and NY will continue to scramble to try to fill the need. Amazon already has a presence in NYC and if they want to avail themselves of the talent that comes from and wants to move to NY they'll continue to build their footprint here even without HQ2.
For me the takeaway is that we have to be much more aware of all our residents and it is our obligation as a society to work to uplift those who haven't had the same opportunities as others. That means really looking hard at diversity, equity, and things like gentrification. It means not just bringing in jobs without having a plan and a path for those at the bottom of the economic ladder to climb up into those jobs. It means working with the communities for their and New York's benefit and not making deals that sound good and might be good for New York as a whole but get there by amputating the parts that we just don't want to deal with.Tweet