Amazon HQ2 plans get mixed reaction in New York and Northern Virginia

The news of Amazon's massive...

Posted: Nov 14, 2018 5:22 AM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 5:22 AM

The news of Amazon's massive expansion in New York City and Northern Virginia is already stirring strong feelings from local leaders and communities.

Some are excited; others are dreading it.

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But there's one thing everyone can agree on: Amazon's decision to split its new headquarters, called HQ2, between Arlington, Virginia and Long Island City, New York will have far-reaching implications.

"The impact it's going to have is hard to exaggerate," Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, told CNN Business. "This will be seen as perhaps the biggest economic development event in the history of this region."

Local universities in the DC and New York areas are among the most excited about the news. These institutions are well-positioned to grow as they educate the young talent Amazon hopes to attract.

Following Amazon's announcement, George Mason and Virginia Tech revealed plans for expanded satellite campuses, bringing more buildings, new faculty members and lots of computer science classes. Virginia Tech plans to invest $1 billion in a campus located a couple miles from Amazon's new site.

Meanwhile, Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, said the news is a way to diversify the tech sector, which has historically been dominated by men. Her student body consists mostly of women and people of color.

"This could be a total paradigm shift," Mellow said. "This is an open door for students to really dream a much bigger dream about the possibilities of tech employment."

She hopes to work with Amazon on designing courses that cater to its needs. Discussions haven't started yet.

"First on my list is hugs and kisses," said Mellow, shortly before a related news conference. "And then after that we move through the real partnership part."

Jimmy Van Bramer, the New York Council member representing Long Island City, and Michael Gianaris, the area's state senator, were less thrilled.

"Amazon duped New York into offering unprecedented amounts of tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on Earth," they wrote in a statement. "It is unfathomable that we would sign a $3 billion check to Amazon in the face of these challenges."

Local businesses were generally more positive, seeing potential for new customers.

"There are two sides to the coin," said Michel Wolfert, owner of the Cliffs, a rock climbing gym in Long Island City. "It's going to be great for our business but in terms of rent costs, apartment pricing and what's happening with Long Island City, everything's going to go through the roof."

But Michal Strejcovsky, general manager of Bierocracy in Long Island City, said he sees a great opportunity to host Amazon parties, given his beer hall's large capacity. But he's concerned about the impact on day-to-day life.

"I can already see the business coming in there," he said. "But I'm not particularly happy about it overall. Long Island City is growing insanely. The place is getting ridiculously overcrowded."

In a statement, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser called for regional leaders to work together on affordable housing.

"This opportunity will push us to work together on our biggest challenges like improving our transportation and infrastructure," Bowser said. "We call on elected leaders in the region to come together and agree to a concrete goal for affordable and workforce housing."

Another drawback for Northern Virginia and New York City could be increased competition for talented workers.

Evan Burfield, who previously co-founded a startup accelerator based in Crystal City, Virginia, and now is CEO of Union, a network for innovators, said he's heard trepidation among startups that it'll be hard to compete against Amazon for talent. But he sees things differently.

"It's not like Amazon is hiring 25,000 people tomorrow," Burfield said. "If we drive the message that the Washington DC region is a place where you can innovate, where you can do amazing, interesting things with artificial intelligence and drones and all the cool things Amazon is working on, that's going to cause more talent to come here."

In Arlington, Virginia, Amazon's headquarters will be located in a newly-dubbed neighborhood, National Landing, just minutes from Reagan National Airport. But there are no plans to rename Long Island City. It's already hard enough for people to grasp the current name, and where it is. Outsiders often think Long Island City is on Long Island, miles from Manhattan, but it's actually a five minute subway ride to Grand Central station in midtown New York, according to Wolfert.

"Now America is learning what Long Island City is," Wolfert said. "It's a fantastic side effect."

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