Ten days ago, Amazon canceled its plans for a headquarters in New York City amid local opposition and outrage. Now, local politicians are trying to bring Amazon to central New York.
Following Amazon’s decision to establish a headquarters in Long Island City in October, the e-commerce giant faced months of public outrage and protest. Local politicians, activists and union workers opposed the $3 billion tax break offered to Amazon by New York state, and argued the company would further gentrify the area and cause rents to skyrocket. In response to the criticism, Amazon canceled its plans and has stated it won’t reopen the search process, but politicians in Binghamton are still hoping to draw the company’s attention.
On Feb. 14, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar sent a letter to Amazon asking the company to consider Binghamton as a new site. In the letter, Garnar invited Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to visit Broome County to consider it as a location.
Garnar said the company could provide new jobs in Binghamton as well as a new supply of tax revenue that would diffuse money from high-paying jobs throughout the city. He also said Amazon’s presence in the area would spur demand for service workers.
“I wrote the letter to encourage Amazon — we see this project as a great opportunity, to bring a lot of investment, to bring a lot of jobs here — to say, ‘We’d welcome you with open arms,’” Garnar said. “There’s a lot of available land in Broome County, and we’re in the middle of a number of large cities. I think that Amazon would bring in a lot of jobs and increase the demand for services. The increase in income would lift everyone up.”
Garnar isn’t the only politician encouraging Amazon to rethink its headquarters. Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY), who represents New York’s 22nd congressional district, also wrote a letter to Amazon urging Bezos to visit central New York. The letter, which was co-signed by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), was sent on Feb. 15, just a day after the New York City plan fell through.
In New York City, many residents feared gentrification, but Garnar said Binghamton wouldn’t respond to Amazon’s presence in the same way because the area does not face the same housing crisis as downstate. There is an abundance of affordable housing in the Southern Tier.
“I don’t think it would cause some of the gentrification issues in New York City — I’m not going to say that wasn’t a concern, but I don’t think those issues are new to New York,” Garnar said. “If there’s a demand in Broome County for housing, we could meet that.”
Brindisi said the possible negative impacts of Amazon coming to central New York may be mitigated by the positives.
“You have to be sensitive to gentrification, but you also have to realize that a company like Amazon — their employees and their company as a whole — would be contributing so much revenue into local and state budgets,” Brindisi said. “That money could be used for education, infrastructure and the community’s needs. It would ultimately increase the tax base.”
The company could also help the area retain talent, including students from local colleges such as Binghamton University.
“I think Broome County is in a good position to respond to new workers — we’ve lost a lot of people over the years,” Garnar said. “Most people move downstate after they graduate to find work.”
Garnar also noted that large businesses have nurtured Binghamton’s economy in the past, including IBM and the Endicott Johnson Corporation, and compared Binghamton to a “rust belt city,” which refers to an area where industries have left an economic gap. Garnar said he believes that gap could be filled by high-paying work for educated professionals.
“You look at this community 50, 60 years ago, we had the largest computer manufacturer in the world and the largest shoe manufacturer in the world,” Garnar said. “Back then, they employed tens of thousands of people. And Binghamton was thriving.”
If Amazon were to set up a headquarters in Binghamton, Garnar said it would receive roughly the same incentives that it would have in its Long Island City location, including up to $1.7 billion in grants and tax breaks from New York state. He said a number of changes, including environmental reviews, land inspections and the construction of new housing, would need to occur in the city if Amazon came to Binghamton.
“If they decided to do this in Broome County, they would get the same type of incentives that they got in New York City,” Garnar said. “Any time you bring 25,000 people into a community you have to say, ‘Alright, we have to develop the land, we have to build houses, we have to have a bunch of land for Amazon to build its housing on.’ We live in New York state, so there would be really careful reviews.”
A few students held less optimistic views about an Amazon headquarters in Binghamton. Boaz Dolny-Lipsy, a senior majoring in politics, philosophy and law, previously lived in the Bronx and plans to return after graduation. He said that as a native to New York City, he was concerned about an Amazon headquarters in Long Island City.
“I was definitely worried about gentrification, especially as someone from the area who wants to live there,” Dolny-Lipsy said. “Just in my own interest, I felt worried as someone who wants to live in the city, but there are people who were even more vulnerable to displacement than me. The state gave a large federal grant to Amazon, which was also really sketchy.”
But despite his concerns about an Amazon headquarters in New York City, Dolny-Lipsy said he has mixed feelings about a possible headquarters in Binghamton, because he feels the economy is different in the Southern Tier. Nevertheless, he is also concerned there would still be a threat of gentrification in Binghamton.
“New York City is an area that’s overdeveloped, and increasing the rate that it’s developed would have way worse effects than it would in Binghamton,” Dolny-Lipsy said. “It’s such a hard thing to say that I want this area to gentrify and I want this area to become more developed. It’s fair to say that development could bring nicer schools [and] nicer roads…but if you bring development and don’t come with a plan for how you are going to help people who are going to be adversely affected, then it’s not going to be the most fair policy, I would say.”
Others see the efforts to draw Amazon to Binghamton as being unrealistic. Helena Ojarovsky, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said Binghamton will need more than Amazon to be successful.
“I think that while a new Amazon headquarters is an easy answer to the local economy struggling and Binghamton having its issues, I don’t think Amazon is a solution,” Ojarovsky said. “If you dig any deeper, it’s not realistic.”
Despite Ojarovsky’s doubts, Amazon could be interested. Garnar received a response to his letter on Feb. 19, in which Holly Sullivan, head of economic development at Amazon, thanked Garnar for his support. Although Sullivan wrote that Amazon still would not be reopening its search for another headquarters, Garnar said she was interested in following up and continuing communication.
“She appreciates the support from Broome County,” Garnar said. “She opened the channel for continued communication and assistance.”
Brindisi said he is optimistic that central New York could have a shot at attracting Amazon.
“It would be great for New York state as a whole,” Brindisi said. “I think we have a lot to offer in upstate New York that is attractive to Amazon — we have world-class colleges and universities, we have a workforce that is eager for opportunities, we have a lower cost of living. And beauty.”