Cheers, fears as Amazon unveils HQ plan

The $5 billion investment will mean thousands of high-paying jobs in the two locations, but could also strain services and housing in areas with already high living costs.

The Amazon Go grocery store at the Amazon corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Picture: AFP

SILICON VALLEY – It's exciting for some, worrisome for others: The arrival of a massive headquarters of technology giant Amazon in two East Coast communities is certain to bring huge changes.

Amazon announced Tuesday after a yearlong search that it would split its "HQ2" between Arlington, Virginia, outside the US capital, and the Long Island City neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens.

The $5 billion investment will mean thousands of high-paying jobs in the two locations, but could also strain services and housing in areas with already high living costs.

Some residents were ready to protest the development, but others welcomed Amazon with open arms.

"I'm really glad it's coming," said Karla Massey, who works in the Pentagon City neighbourhood of Arlington that is part of the new Amazon headquarters area.

"It's not just the Amazon jobs. It's jobs for bartenders, for dry cleaners, all kinds of people, that's the awesome part," Massey told AFP outside the Pentagon City shopping mall.

Massey said Amazon's will bring "alive" the area, a collection of office and apartment buildings with scattered shopping and cultural activities.

Jennah Goldman, an Arlington resident who designs custom clothing, was especially pleased to hear the news of her new neighbour.

"It's exciting because it will bring more people to fill all those high-rises they are building," she said while walking her dog.

Goldman said she has a lot of admiration for the company and its new services.

But Barbara Vetter, a long-time Virginia resident and government employee, was skeptical.

"I know it's got a lot of positives, but with the increased traffic and already high cost of living, it's hard to be optimistic," she said outside a local Starbucks.

"The cost of living jump is going to be a huge detriment for those not working for Amazon."


In New York, a similar storyline was playing out in a section of the city in the midst of transformation from its industrial past.

"The place changed so much in the last 10 years, it's just going to be some part of the neighbourhood," said Mike Barratt, a store manager at Spokesman Cycles in Long Island City who fretted over families' ability to deal with higher housing costs.

"A lot of people don't own but they've been living here renting for 15, 20 years, and they're getting priced out," said Barratt. "They're upset."

Dozens of luxury high-rise buildings, suitable for senior Amazon executives, had been in the planning well before the company came on the scene, said Jonathan Miller, CEO of the real-estate firm Miller Samuel.

Amazon's arrival could end up "essentially bailing out developers that went ahead despite the excess supply," he said.


New York City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents parts of Queens, was rallying opponents to the Amazon deal, claiming city and state officials offered too much in tax incentives.

"Our subways are crumbling, out children lack school seats, and too many of our neighbours lack adequate health care," Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris said in a statement.

"We are witness to a cynical game in which Amazon duped New York into offering unprecedented amounts of tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on Earth."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, elected to Congress from a district that includes part of Queens, also voiced concern about offering big tax breaks to Amazon.

"We need to focus on good healthcare, living wages, affordable rent. Corporations that offer none of those things should be met w/ skepticism," she said on Twitter.

Officials in both Virginia and New York sought to point out that the tax benefits for Amazon were tied to job creation, and that they expected government coffers to see a positive return from Amazon's investments.

Amazon will get "performance-based direct incentives of $1.525 billion" over the next decade based on creating 25,000 jobs in Long Island City, according to the company.

Virginia is offering more than $500 million with similar restrictions, and will also spend some $200 million in infrastructure improvements including in mass transit, as well as create a new campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute on the site.

"Our investments are in our people and our infrastructure," Governor Ralph Northam said.