New Yorkers may not be so keen to host Amazon’s headquarters anymore, but Chicago would be delighted to have the honor.
New York—or, to be more precise, Long Island City—never made much sense as the destination for the e-commerce giant’s halfsie headquarters. That a portion of the prize was going to go to the Washington D.C. area surprised no one, but New York was a head-scratcher mainly because so many of the factors Amazon said it was seeking—affordable talent and housing—are in such scant supply in and around the Big Apple. In short, New York doesn’t really need Amazon—and the hostile greeting the company has received there only underscores the point.
Almost immediately after Amazon announced last year that it chose Long Island City as one of two sites to build new corporate offices, a backlash erupted among lawmakers and community organizers in Albany and in New York’s City Hall. The worry: An influx of Amazon workers could push out existing residents, drive up New York’s already high cost of housing and add to congestion on the already overcrowded subway.
Bloomberg reports that at a contentious City Council meeting earlier this month, Amazon’s public policy director Brian Huseman touted the benefits of the deal to the New York economy, but also said Amazon wants to invest in a “community that wants us.”
That was the first clue that the $2.5 billion New York deal might be falling apart. The speculation intensified on Feb. 8, when the Washington Post reported Amazon is rethinking its commitment to New York, citing unnamed sources close to the deal.
That news was all Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker needed to reach out right away to Amazon officials and remind them that Chicago is still here, eager as ever to talk. All the factors that made Chicago a great fit for Amazon are still as valid now as they were when Chicago made Amazon’s short-list last year. Our steady pipeline of top-notch university talent remains second-to-none. Our experience in the white-collar industries Amazon is looking to tap—law, finance, risk management, accounting, marketing, logistics—remains deep as ever. Our global transportation reach is formidable and poised to get better as outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares a new phase of construction at O’Hare International Airport. Our housing stock, talent and general cost of living are all affordable relative to other major metros.
Chicago is a great place to live and work. And yet, unlike New York, Chicago could benefit greatly from Amazon’s presence. While there may be grumbling in some quarters about corporate incentives, it’s not likely that such grousing here would develop into the full-throated protests that may have turned Amazon off to New York. Most Chicagoans understand the affirmation that Amazon’s arrival would be, a declaration that Chicago, despite its many challenges, still has what it takes.
So, it’s not too late to make the right choice, Amazon. That choice is, was and always has been Chicago.