Amazon Amateurs

Let’s say for the sake of this discussion that Amazon’s plan to expand to New York City in a Big Way was a good thing. Good for the city generally, and good for the residents of Queens (the borough where Amazon was to locate) specifically. Clearly, this was the strongly held belief of New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Just as clearly, it was the strongly held belief of New York City’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio. The two men happen to agree on very little – and there’s plenty of evidence that they don’t much like each other. But on this issue, they were in strong accord. Notwithstanding the costs incurred, Amazon’s bringing 25,000 jobs to the Big Apple was certain to bring enormous benefits. It was a major coup both for the state and for the city.

Turned out that New York’s political leaders were every bit as surprised as Amazon’s corporate leaders when, instead of every New Yorker dancing in the streets when the news was announced, many were furious. Furious at the billions of dollars of tax incentives that Amazon had been promised. Furious at the disruption and gentrification that they were persuaded threatened their way of life. Furious above all that the deal had been reached without any of their input – without them even knowing what was going on. By the time New Yorkers found out what transpired it was too late. Case closed. Fait accompli. Done deal. “You don’t like it? Suck it up.”

Amazon’s leaders have been faulted for being too thin-skinned. Too hasty in their decision to quit the city as soon as the going got a little bit rough. But, what do they know? They’re based in Seattle. Seattle is not New York. And the people of Seattle are not like the people of New York. New Yorkers are demanding and demonstrative, purposeful and pushy, aggressive and action-oriented. Enough of them were enough angry at having been excluded from the decision-making, that they threatened seriously to derail or at least seriously slow the entire process. And so, Amazon’s leaders picked up their marbles and went home.

Assuming you supported the Amazon plan, its collapse was a bad outcome, with enough blame to go around. But the buck stops at the top. It is Cuomo and de Blasio who should have known better. It is these leaders who should have cultivated their followers, their fellow New Yorkers. Had they been paid greater attention, they could certainly have been convinced that whatever the downsides of Amazon’s planned expansion, the upsides far outweighed them.   

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