Photo by Stefan Radtke
Yes, Westchester, there is a Santa Claus. He is Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world.
And if you are really, really good, the visionary CEO will bring you the supreme holiday gift: Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters wrapped inside a $5 billion corporate colossus of at least 500,000 sq ft. It’s called HQ2.
The plan is to eventually create 50,000 jobs, or more than double the current population of Somers — the pastoral Northern Westchester town touted by eager county officials as an ideal site for HQ2. Put it another way: HQ2 will bring 6,000 more jobs than the 44,000 total Rob Astorino claims were created under his entire watch as county executive, going back to 2010.
Amazon says the average compensation for employees of HQ2 will be more than $100,000, which means they will have enough discretionary income to benefit local businesses, not to mention Amazon.com, the 21st-century version of the company store. Indeed, the company estimates that its Seattle operation, HQ1 if you will, injected $38 billion into the city’s economy from 2010 to 2016.
In other words, HQ2 is pure gold.
The problem, of course, is that there is only one HQ2 to be had.
So, when Amazon dangled a request for proposals attached to an October 19 deadline, it seemed every burg in North America — from Tucson to Toronto — made a bid. It was a virtual gold rush, a sweepstakes. The odds were long, but you had to be in it to win it.
Astorino’s pitch, made in the fall, was spirited. He pointed to Westchester’s college-educated workforce, air-and-rail proximity, outstanding quality of life and distinguished corporate history. The county is sometimes referred to as the Golden Apple and boasts the storied Platinum Mile, a stretch of corporate parks on both sides of Westchester Avenue.
His public announcement included an amusing stunt with a drone — the delivery system of the future, which the futuristic Bezos once said would soon be “as common as seeing a mail truck.”
The Amazon contest is so rife with speculation that it’s even being handicapped. Lists of top contenders abound, but Westchester is invariably overlooked.
The competition in New York State alone is stiff. Buffalo, Rochester, and Nassau County are all in the hunt, as is New York City, which has already secured Amazon’s commitment to lease 359,000 square feet of Manhattan office space next year. Also in 2018, Amazon will open an 855,000 sq ft fulfillment center, or warehouse, that will employ 2,250 people.
One of Westchester’s few weak points is its high cost of housing. Another nagging challenge is attracting tech-savvy Millennials, particularly those who favor the excitement of big-city life.
Alicia Glen, New York’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said as much to Bloomberg News. “Kids want to work in NYC,” she sniffed. “They don’t want to be in a suburban office park.”
That may be wishful thinking.
One key section of Amazon’s eight-page RFP should be considered with a firm grip on the taxpayers’ wallets. It’s under the heading “Incentives.” Amazon is going nowhere without securing goodies in the way of “tax credits, exemptions, relocation grants,” and so on.
Critics are calling this a form of blackmail. But it is increasingly the way of the world. (Look no further than General Electric’s recent landing in Boston after leaving Fairfield, CT.)
Santa must be served, so here are a couple of ideas from the Golden Apple that might please him.
• Offer to rename the Tappan Zee-Mario Cuomo Bridge “The Amazon Prime Bridge.”
• Give all Amazon employees free passes to all county parks, including the golf courses.
• Throw in 78-acre Davids Island in New Rochelle as a sweetener. It’s perfect for a warehouse and drone center.
Well, it couldn’t hurt.
But hold the eggnog! Amazon reportedly will winnow its list of HQ2 candidates by Christmas day, but won’t announce the winner until after the holidays. Still, in the online world of retail, every day is Christmas, isn’t it? Some town will be a holly-jolly winner.
And it will be Festivus for the rest of us.
The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think: email firstname.lastname@example.org.