Indra Nooyi spearheading effort to rein in Amazon’s HQ2 from New York to Connecticut

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Indra Nooyi., the former CEO of PepsiCo. Photo: Reuters.

NEW YORK – It’s the stuff nightmares and dreams are made of. New York’s loss could be Connecticut’s gain; a path to financial and economic rejuvenation for a state in the throes of steep budget cuts, tightening of purse strings.

As Amazon is reportedly getting second thoughts about its planned HQ2 in Long Island City, New York, because of fierce opposition by local politicians and activists, including Democrats, its neighboring state – considered more like the suburbs of the Big Apple – is making a frenzied move to try rein in the company to its sylvan surroundings.

The Journal Inquirer reported this week that Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is courting the internet retail giant, who plans to also create a new headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

In response to indications that Amazon would give up on New York, “we mobilized our new Partnership to Advance the Connecticut of Tomorrow,” or PACT, Lamont posted on social media.

Specifically, Lamont said, Indra Nooyi, the former honcho of PepsiCo, and Jim Smith, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center’s (CERC) co-chairs, have been instructed to develop a plan, the Inquirer reported.

CERC is part of Lamont’s new construct for the state’s economic development strategy.

During Amazon’s search for a location for a second headquarters, Connecticut submitted proposals for the Hartford and Stamford regions, and several other communities had thrown their hat in the ring for consideration, including a site in Enfield, centered around the Enfield Square mall area.

The Hartford Courant reported Nooyi, who resigned from PepsiCo as CEO, in October, has emerged as an influential emissary of the state in the young administration of Lamont, who is her longtime friend, fellow Greenwich resident and Yale School of Management classmate.

Nooyi and Smith will help set the direction for the state’s restructured economic development agency. Its members are unpaid volunteers, including Nooyi, 63, who is expected to play a role in recruiting companies to move to Connecticut. Nooyi got $31.1 million in total compensation during the 2017 fiscal year, from PepsiCo.

“I’m sort of a missionary for Connecticut,” Nooyi said during an economic forum in Greenwich, CT, last month, reported the Courant. “Nobody in the Connecticut political system has reached out to us until Ned became governor. Nobody has ever said, ‘Come and help Connecticut.’ I want to do my part. It’s time for me to give back.”

The Hartford Courant reported the clout of Nooyi is already evident. She is serving as a conduit between the state and the Bengaluru-headquartered Infosys, that last year picked Hartford as a hub in its US expansion. The deal will bring an estimated 1,000 jobs to the capital city. It was Lamont who helped steer Infosys to the state’s economic development brass.

“All I did was I provided the introduction,” Nooyi said, of the deal with Infosys. “Ned ran with it. Connecticut was not even on their list.”

Over the years, Connecticut has been hit hard by some prime companies leaving its boundaries for fresh locales. The biggest loss was General Electric moving its base from Fairfield to Boston, Massachusetts, in 2016.

Nooyi has often lamented the flight of jobs from the state, as well as young workers opting to work in neighboring cities, with New York City being a preferred destination.

However, Lamont and his administration would also be wary of Nooyi taking up another bigger cause: helming the World Bank.

The New York Times reported last month that Nooyi is under consideration to head the World Bank, with no less than Ivanka Trump courting her for the role. A long-time Democrat, Nooyi had supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

However, it will take a while before Amazon takes a decision on pulling out from New York, if they indeed decide to do so.

FILE PHOTO: 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

While the New York State Senate is adamant that Amazon be not given any financial incentives considering the wealth of the company, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly come down hard on his Democratic colleagues, terming the opposition to the business deal of the century he struck as “governmental malpractice.”

Supporters of the Amazon deal can take heart from a new poll released today, on Tuesday, which indicates a majority of New York state voters support the $3 billion deal to bring the company to Queens — especially minorities, reported the New York Post.

This is despite vehement opposition by the newly minted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was reportedly celebrating the decision by Amazon to reconsider New York, reported Fox News.

The Siena College poll asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the recently announced deal between Amazon and New York, which grants up to $3 billion in state and city incentives to Amazon in return for Amazon locating its corporate offices in Queens, where it is projected to generate 25,000 jobs?”

The result: 56 percent of voters statewide approved, while 36 percent didn’t. In New York City, 58 percent of registered voters backed the plan, while 35 percent were opposed.

The Siena poll queried 778 registered voters from February 4 to 7 and has a 4.3 percentage-point margin of error.

While Connecticut has actively started campaigning and put a plan in action to woo Amazon, some other cities too may be in the reckoning, if there is change in plans.

A news report by Yahoo! listed Newark, New Jersey, as one of top three contenders, along with Denver and Colorado.

While Connecticut can boast of its own top notch universities, including Yale, and proximity to a bunch of others in Massachusetts, and New York, Yahoo! delved into Newark’s potential despite its abysmal poverty rate, with nearly 28% of the city’s population living under the poverty line.

However, in its proposal to Amazon, Newark originally offered $7 billion in tax incentives — $5 billion from the state and $2 billion in local property and wage taxes — making for the largest financial incentive any of the cities publicly announced.

Also, Newark has under its belt Newark Liberty International Airport, and a number of academic institutions located in close proximity, including Princeton University, Rutgers University, New York University, and Fordham University — all potential recruiting pipelines for young, emerging tech talent.

The report said Amazon already has a strong presence in Newark and the surrounding area. In 2008, the Seattle tech giant acquired Audible, a Newark-based online seller of audiobooks, for $300 million. And in the last five years, Amazon has built more than five million square feet of warehouse space and currently employs some 13,000 full-time employees in New Jersey, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Services.

So, what’s Nooyi going to do next?

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

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