Monday, February 18, 2019

Why Amazon Did the Right Thing

People are envious of success - and they will also try to shake you down, particularly in New York.

Mayor De-Blasé is furious with Amazon for not "sticking around" and "fighting it out" New York style.  After all, this is the "big apple" and you got to play by the rules here!   But maybe Amazon made the right call.

I wrote in a previous posting that I understand why some folks are not happy with this new generation of Benevolent Billionaires.   They come across as liberal (well some of them, anyway) but much of their "disruption" and "tech" amounts to taking crappy jobs and making them even crappier.  They seem the antithesis of traditional Democratic values.  Sure, their companies have transgender bathrooms.   Their labor force is also non-union. And you wonder why the Democratic party is schizophrenic?

But of course, the jobs Amazon was bringing to New York were not $15-an-hour warehouse jobs, but clean, well-paid white-collar jobs. So why the push-back on both sides?  I think a number of reasons:

1.  Buyer's Remorse:   Arlington, Virginia offered less than half the incentives that New York did, and ended up with about as much.  There are a lot of empty buildings in Crystal City since the Patent Office and the Navy moved out, but even then, Arlington didn't over-bid on this "auction" deal.   New York did - and realized it after the dust settled.  So they wanted to renegotiate the deal.

2.  Everyone Wants a Taste:   This is New York, and people like Donald Trump know how to make projects move ahead there - you pay off people.   You pay off the politicians.  You pay off the union leaders.   You pay off the Mafia - which often is all three.   Everyone has their hand out, and nothing gets done unless you grease the skids.   Arlington isn't like this - so Amazon did the logical thing and pulled out.  Why fight to get a deal you already signed?

3.  Everyone Hates A Winner:  People will despise you, once you become successful - it is human nature.  I wrote before about Pleasant Rowland who sold her "American Doll" company to Mattel for the better part of a billion dollars.  She returned to Aurora, New York, to help the struggling college there and to renovate and rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in the tiny town.   You would think the locals would be grateful, but they had a parade and hung her in effigy.   She left town and almost too late, the locals realized what they had lost.

The same noises about "gentrifying" and "being priced out of our homes!" were raised then - as if making a town or a neighborhood nicer was somehow a bad thing, and living in squalor is desirable.  Yes, it is sad when a Mom-and-Pop coffee shop goes under because of increased rents and a Starbucks takes its place.   But when you go to the Starbucks the day it opens, who is really to blame?

Funny thing - the electrician working on my house today is from Queens.  He didn't seem all that upset about Amazon causing the value of his house to skyrocket.   In fact, he's kind of pissed the whole deal fell through.

4.  Fighting Isn't The Answer:   There are noises that Amazon might come back to the table, once suitable Democrats are humbled.   It remains to be seen.   But Amazon would be right to just walk away and not try to fix a bad deal.  Knowing when to walk away - and not merely as a negotiating tactic - is important.

Amazon could stay and "fight" and end up fighting forever.   Not only will their opponents never be happy, they would continue to try to wring concessions from Amazon, making the location look less and less profitable and desirable.  Meanwhile, the bad press would continue to pile up -  a lose/lose situation for Amazon.

It is like fighting a war for 20 years and then losing - as we did in Vietnam.   Why not just cut to the chase and lose up-front and get it over with?

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Don't get me wrong - I think this whole thing of offering "incentives" for wealthy companies or sports teams to locate to your town is wrong.  These companies end up playing one town off against another, and the "winner" of these deals often learns to regret the decision.

Quite frankly, Arlington is a much better fit for Amazon.  The drab and unimaginative buildings in Crystal City are no architectural wonders.  No one would care if Amazon moves in, tears them down, or what.  And since so many agencies and companies have left the area, there is vacant office space galore.   Plus, the area hosts one of the highest concentration of tech workers outside of silicon valley and the cost of living is much less than New York.

The roads in that area are less congested, and the subway system has two stops there.   Few people in Arlington are upset about their house being worth more money or that there are more available jobs.  Of course, that would also include me - as I still own a condo on the yellow line - about four stops from Crystal City.

That being said, I think Amazon would be foolish to put their hand back on the hot stove and beg New York for a second chance.  Just walk away, and concentrate your energies elsewhere.  When you have the power that Amazon has, it is better to just walk away.  And by power, I don't mean the power to intimidate or to manipulate, but merely the ability to afford to walk away from a bad deal, as they don't need it.

If you have that power, why squander it?

UPDATE 2020:  I wonder how long it will be, before Amazon quietly moves out of Seattle.  A trickle of jobs here and there, and one day, they turn the lights off.   If your host city treats you like shit - or as a cash-cow to be milked, then it is time to move.