Today, Amazon confirmed what had long been set in stone: New York and Northern Virginia will both be the future homes of its new headquarters, known as HQ2.
The icky competition for HQ2 feels like it’s dragged on for years, because it has. What at first appeared like a straightforward economic announcement—Amazon’s current headquarters in Seattle has been responsible for 30 percent of the city’s net job growth in the past 10 years—quickly soured, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos decided to go full tilt and turn the decision-making process into a nationwide game show, where YOUR city too could waste money on consultants and ammunition for an arms race that trafficked in obtuse gestures and hard-earned cash from the citizenry. It was a sham, and a disgrace. And cities across the country danced to the music.
A total of 238 cities submitted plans to Amazon; just 20 were selected as “finalists.” The lucky losers ended up being Miami, D.C., Montgomery County, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Newark, Boston, Toronto, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Austin.
Each of these cities bowed to Amazon’s power, and they were joined by dozens more that entered the competition before the list was whittled down for no reason other than to squeeze all the juice possible from the nation’s most promising urban hubs. Please remember that these proposals all came from politicians whose salaries are paid by state and local taxes.
Here’s a brief rundown of the chicanery:
- Last October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed off on four major city landmarks, including the Empire State Building, to be lit up “Amazon Orange.” Oh, and the state is throwing $2.5 billion their way.
- New Jersey offered $7 billion of tax breaks.
- Maryland topped that with an $8.5 billion package.
- Austin city officials didn’t even know what the hell they offered Amazon.
- The denizens of Raleigh and Charlotte got into a spectacularly petty tiff over HQ2 when Raleigh made the list of 20 and Charlotte was left out in the cold, leading to the kind of infighting where you brag over whose monorail is less shitty.
- Tuscon sent Amazon a 21-foot cactus, and the worst part isn’t that the city paid for the shipping or for some D.C. dweeb to give them the idea, but that Amazon didn’t even keep it.
- Birmingham installed three huge Amazon boxes around the city, followed by the same stunt but with the shopping buttons for lazy people.
- Kansas City mayor Sly James first posted 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon that looped in cheesy-ass sentiments about the city; then he recorded an unboxing video featuring Amazon boxes, because the only thing better than groveling to tech titans is doing it twice.
- Stonecrest, GA, near Atlanta, offered to straight up give the company 345 acres and rename itself Amazon, GA.
- And, of course, as we scrape the bottom of the barrel, multiple mayors released dumbass videos asking Amazon’s creepy and annoying robot lady why their towns were good the very best.
The realist in me understands why and how this all came to be. Amazon is a force that cannot be ignored. For years it has done nothing but maintained and grown its ubiquitous influence, and once it achieved its current level of dominance, it did what every major industrial titan has to American towns and cities, and exerted its influence to lower taxes and labor standards—not just for HQ2, but also for the “Fulfillment Centers,” the warehouses where full-time and seasonal workers will now be paid $15/hour to hold their piss, ignore their injuries, and have new-age industrial engineers come by to time their expediency.
This creeping dystopia was further emboldened by the fact that a great many of the inane gestures from these cities felt like little more pandering acts for mayors and governors to show the voters that they were Trying—that their city deserved its chance to kneel before the world’s richest man and offer their humble trinkets. Supposedly progressive leaders opted to play along in the charade, feigning their hopefulness and burying their ideological disdain for being forced to participate—if such disdain ever existed—because it was the politically savvy thing to do in their eyes.
The most disheartening facet of the bidding process wasn’t the hollowness of it all, but the inevitable foolishness that these cities would be left with when Amazon went elsewhere with its business. This wasn’t as much a play or competition as it was a test—a measuring of how far local and state governments could be pushed into playing their part in a massive PR campaign that sold these job sites as a potential jackpot lottery. In reality, HQ2 was always focused on one of the six places Amazon was only ever seriously considering. And now, the two places that needed it the least will welcome Amazon into their cities with bags of gold coins, while Amazon and every other major American employer sits back and plots out how to make the cities dance again.