Local activists say the city’s public funds could be used to better ends than lining Jeff Bezos’s pockets.
Image: Robert Scoble/Flickr
Cities have gone to some embarrassing lengths to try to attract Amazon as the company searches for a location to build its second headquarters. But behind the scenes, there are a growing number of residents in the finalist cities who are trying to convince the tech behemoth to not come to their neck of the woods.
The most formal campaign is in DC, where the Fair Budget Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for economic equality, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America have teamed up to created an anti-Amazon campaign. Flipping the city’s Amazon-seducing slogan of “Obviously DC” the groups point out all the reasons why the choice should be “Obviously NOT DC”
“The message was ‘obviously DC is the best place to be and everyone is thriving here,’ when what we were seeing is homeless encampments being torn down in newly-developed areas,” Monica Kamen, co-director of the Fair Budget Coalition, told me over the phone. “We just felt like it was a bit disingenuous considering how many people are struggling to get by here.”
DC has a higher unemployment rate than the United States average, one of the highest homelessness rates in the country, and the worst income inequality of any state. Yet, like all the cities currently bidding to attract Amazon, the district has pledged a lucrative deal that includes tax breaks and bonuses for relocated employees.
The prize of an Amazon headquarters is ostensibly providing 50,000 new jobs in the area and injecting much-needed economic development, but Kamen said it’s not clear that what the district is offering will be worth the return on investment.
“We want to see district residents getting good jobs that pay living wages and provide benefits, but the concern we have is that the jobs that will be created aren’t those types of jobs—they’re going to be low-paying and we’re not sure they will offer the benefits needed to live here,” Kamen told me, adding that the DC offer includes incentives for current Amazon employees to relocate, which means many of the jobs will already be scooped up, and more workers could be arriving to tax the city’s already strained resources such as public transit.
DC isn’t the only location where residents had reservations. After considering a bid, Little Rock, Arkansas created an entire economic development campaign about how it didn’t want Amazon to relocate there.
“You want 50,000 employees for your new campus. We have a sizable, resourceful workforce, but if we were to concentrate them here, it would be a bummer,” read an ‘breakup letter’ to Amazon as part of the campaign. “Our lack of traffic and ease of getting around would be totally wrecked, and we can’t sacrifice that for you.”
In Denver, Colorado, comedian Adam Cayton-Holland has been vocal about the potential pitfalls of bringing Amazon’s HQ2 to the region.
“They’re not going to hire local, they’re going to bring in Silicon Valley people, and the city is already overcrowded as it is,” Cayton-Holland said recently during a live recording of the Lovett or Leave It podcast. “I so resent Amazon’s ‘impress us,’ attitude. Go to a city that fucking needs you. Denver is thriving.”
Similar backlash has been brewing in Boston, Newark, and New York City. And looking at the impact Amazon’s OG HQ has had on Seattle doesn’t send a dazzling message: rent prices have spiked 40 percent in the last four years, and the city is one of the ten worst for traffic congestion in the country.
Amazon might want to make its mind up quickly, before other cities start to realize that becoming home to the tech giant’s new HQ might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .