Hail Amazon! Welcome to Queens!

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A woman pushes a stroller at Gantry Plaza State Park, in Long Island City, Queens, New York City, U.S., November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo.

NEW YORK – For long, the claim to fame for Long Island City in Queens, New York, was it was home to the largest fortune cookie factory in the United States, owned by Wonton Foods, producing four million fortune cookies a day; and that it accommodated Queensbridge, the largest public housing development in the Western Hemisphere.

Today, this beautiful nook of the Big Apple reachable by both ferry and subway, dotted by dozens of art galleries – and artistic hubs like the Socrates Sculpture Park and the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Museum, waterfront parks, breweries, eclectic restaurants, and classy high rise residential buildings with stupendous views of Manhattan across the East River, is on the global map for another reason: Amazon has selected it to be its new split headquarters, along with Crystal City, in Arlington, Virginia. The latter has already been rechristened jubilantly today, as ‘Landing City’.

The frenzy for real estate, condos and apartments, has already begun in not only Long Island City, but its surrounding areas as well. Prices will spiral higher closer to the day when Amazon finally inaugurates its gleaming new buildings to accommodate 25,000 new workers, expected to be built in the area of Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive, in an area also known as Anable Basin.

The entire population of the combined Queensbridge-Ravenswood-Long Island City neighborhood was 20,030, according to the 2010 United States Census. It’s a diverse population, with only 14.7% White, 25.9% African American, 15.5% Asian, and Hispanic or Latino of any race counted as 40.5%.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at a news conference in Seattle, Wash., June 18, 2014. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)

“We are excited to build new headquarters in New York City and Northern Virginia,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in a statement, announcing the move. “These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come. The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”

Amazon said it’s receiving $1.525 billion in incentives from New York for the move. For the next 10 years, that will include a tax credit of $48,000 for each of the 25,000 jobs that will pay more than $150,000 each annually, at an average.

CBS News reported that in addition, Amazon says it has agreed to donate space on its campus for a tech startup incubator and for use by artists and industrial businesses, donate a site for a new public school, and will also create “infrastructure improvements” and green spaces. The Empire State Development Corporation is giving a cash grant of $325 million based on the square footage of buildings Amazon will occupy in the next 10 years.

What is the City getting in return? Plenty, apart from the 25,000 news jobs that will be the off-shoot to other jobs in the area and beyond: $2.5 billion investment from Amazon; facilities totaling four million square feet, with the potential to double in size; and projected incremental tax revenue of more than $10 billion over 20 years. New York City will also be well aware of the fact that Amazon helped boost Seattle’s economy indirectly by $38 billion between 2010 and 2016.

The reaction to Amazon’s decision on Long Island City ranged from ecstatic to critical.

“I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, according to The Week, adding for emphasis: “Because it would be a great economic boost.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio chimed in: “It’s not just tens of thousands of jobs, it’s also that this consolidates New York City as an international tech hub.”

Jeremiah Moss, a blogger and author who writes about gentrification and real estate issues in New York City, didn’t see it that way. He told Rolling Stone: “When Amazon drops on Long Island City, it’ll set off a tsunami of hyper-gentrification that will push out whatever remains of the working class — and much of the middle class. We’ve seen it in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan when Google moved in.”

Newly minted Congresswoman from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decried the incentives doled out to Amazon, tweeting: ‘Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.’

Nevertheless, the excitement and buzz is here to stay. New York City is proud that it’s chosen to herald in a new chapter in global business history.

Factors that swung the deal towards New York and Virginia were quality of schools, emphasis on science and math in those schools, and abundant availability of tech workforce from colleges and universities in the vicinity. The decision was made easier also with the same quality to be found in some neighboring communities in Connecticut and New Jersey, as far as New York is concerned.

The second headquarters search began in September 2017 when Amazon announced it would start accepting proposals for what quickly became known as HQ2. During the process, Amazon narrowed 238 bids to 20 finalists, including Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, and Miami. Executives traveled across the United States — and to one Canadian city — to tour sites to find the company’s next home, reported Reuters.

CNN reported the search ignited frenzy among cities looking to boost their economies. Some cities responded with elaborate gestures to try to woo Amazon. Tucson, Arizona, famously sent Bezos a giant cactus, and Birmingham, Alabama, installed massive Amazon delivery boxes around the city. Kansas City’s mayor gave five-star reviews to 1,000 random items on Amazon’s website, and Stonecrest, Georgia offered to rename some of its land the city of Amazon, and make Bezos its Mayor.

People are offered free reusable bags as they enter the new Amazon Go store at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in Seattle, Washington, U.S., January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson.

Much before the Amazon behemoth comes up in Queens, the company will be introducing a different kind of technology to denizens of the City: cashier-less convenience store Amazon Go will soon be inaugurated inside Brookfield Place, across from the World Trade Center.

Amazon has so far opened three Amazon Go locations in Seattle and two in Chicago, with another on the way in the Windy City, according to Recode. The stores utilize a combination of sensors, cameras and computer vision to automatically charge customers for items upon exit without them needing to stop and pay.

For tech professionals, the New York City metropolitan area is now one of the hottest in the US. The likely scenario is paucity of talent, and skilled workers.

Infosys had announced its decision to open its next Technology and Innovation Hub in Hartford, Connecticut, and hire 1,000 American workers in the state by 2022. The hiring process is underway.

Hartford is just over two hours away by road from New York City. With Amazon’s announcement, Infosys will now struggle to get and retain top quality tech talent at its new center, in the years to come.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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