To win Amazon, don’t compete—collaborate

Amazon’s campus in Seattle, where it has more than 40,000 employees

Both New York City and Newark made the list of finalists for Amazon’s new headquarters, along with 18 other cities, from Toronto to Miami to Los Angeles. It’s obvious what comes next: Amazon wants each city to compete for the prize of 50,000 jobs, adding tax breaks and other sweeteners to their proposal. It is a tried-and-true practice for businesses that are looking to move or expand, one that leads to states and cities cannibalizing one another for smaller and smaller benefits.

New York and New Jersey have a long history of bidding each other down to win jobs. Mayor Ed Koch famously produced an ad showing him guarding a boarded-up Holland Tunnel, daring any attempt to lure companies across the Hudson River.

But with a roaring economy, New York City is now in the driver’s seat. Mayor Bill de Blasio, like Michael Bloomberg before him, has leveraged the city’s position to limit tax abatements and other incentives for such deals. (New York’s proposal for Amazon notably does not include any discretionary incentives.) Although New Jersey also has benefited from the renewed attraction of its urban centers and proximity to New York, it continues to focus on large public subsidies to attract companies.

But with Amazon, Newark and New York ought to take a different approach. Instead of competing, they should offer the strengths of each city in a coordinated regional proposal. Neither city would get the whole pie, but together they could thrive.

The two cities are in different states, but they’re in one economy. New Jersey sends 320,000 commuters to New York every day, and increasingly New Yorkers are going the other way as well. It’s a 20-minute ride from the West Side to downtown Newark and only 30 minutes from downtown Newark to Lower Manhattan. The thing standing in the way of a coordinated bid isn’t geography or economy; it’s political will.

A coordinated bid would be a stronger one. We all know the strengths of New York when it comes to attracting big business. But with the Amazon bid, there are significant challenges as well—not the least of which are the cost of 8 million square feet of offices for one company (to put that in perspective, it is more than the size of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and 1 World Trade Center combined) and homes for 50,000 more workers in one of the country’s most expensive markets.

Newark would offer less expensive office space, more affordable housing for employees, excellent access to Newark Liberty International Airport and the opportunity to provide jobs and economic growth in a place where it could be truly transformative. Together the two cities would offer even greater access to the region’s skilled, educated workforce; world-class educational and cultural institutions; and a diverse range of office and housing options in one of the largest metropolitan economies in the world.

Instead of competing, New York and Newark could jointly submit a proposal that would be both irresistible for Amazon and a better deal for both cities, saving money while bringing jobs and economic opportunity to both sides of the Hudson.

Moses Gates is director of community planning and design at the Regional Plan Association.

A version of this article appears in the March 5, 2018, print issue of Crain’s New York Business.

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