Washington State

Seattle to Amazon: Don't Leave Me, Baby

The city's leaders try desperately to reset relations with the company while it searches for a new headquarters.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
David Ryder/Polaris/Newscom

Cities hoping to host Amazon's second corporate headquarters have until Thursday to submit their bids. More than 50 jurisdictions have jumped at the opportunity already, promising increasingly extravagant incentives to the e-commerce company.

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie offered Amazon $7 billion in tax incentives to set up shop in the Garden State. Local officials in Georgia have offered to let the company incorporate its own city. Tuscon even sent Amazon's CEO a 21-foot cactus.

The only place not jumping for joy is the company's current hometown of Seattle, where politicians have reacted to the prospect of Amazon expanding elsewhere as if they were going through the phases of a bad break-up.

Local officials greeted Amazon's initial announcement with an "I'll never let you go" kind of rage. One councilmember, Kshama Sawant, reacted by yearning "to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership."

Some Seattle politicians are now expressing regret about such harsh words, and are promising to be a better partner to the company.

Last Friday, five out of nine Seattle City Councilmembers—along with a clutch of county and state officials—sent a letter to Amazon. To the extent that the company's decision to expand elsewhere was based on "feeling unwelcome in Seattle, or not being included in some of our regional decisions," they wrote, "we would like to hit the refresh button."

"Those of us who are signing onto this letter want you to know we have heard you," they added. "We also want you to stay with us and grow with us both in Seattle and with our sister cities across the state." To kickstart this new relationship, the politicians propose including Amazon in a series of taskforces targeting traffic, crime, and education.

This letter is no doubt heartfelt. But it also misses the point, says Erin Shannon of the Washington Policy Center. "There needs to be a much bigger reset button for that letter to have any meaning," Shannon tells Reason, adding that the "city's anti-business climate is playing very likely a strong role" in causing Amazon to look for greener pastures.

In 2014 the city passed one of the nation's first $15 an hour minimum wage laws. This was followed by onerous employee scheduling regulations, restrictions on running criminal background checks, and an infamous (and probably illegal) income tax. To draft this tax, Seattle hired John Burbank, director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, who once called Amazon a "sociopathic roommate" that the city was better off without.*

And these are just the policies that have passed. Also in the works is a so-called Amazon tax, which would levy a yearly $100-per-employee levy on large companies.

Amazon has tacitly acknowledged that policy factors are playing a role in its search for a home away from home. It lists "a stable and business friendly environment" as one of four key preferences for the site of its new headquarters. The company has also said it was looking for a good "cultural community fit" with "local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company", and it has encouraged bidding cities to include testimonials from other large companies.

The Seattle City Council's letter is remarkable in how little it seems to understand these concerns. Rather than offering to improve the city's business climate, officials are asking for Amazon's help in mitigating the problems its growth has supposedly caused.

For instance, the letter's section on the "gig economy" mostly bemoans the rise of contract workers in the tech sector, telling Amazon that "we would like to work with you, other employers, employees, and contract workers to establish new policies around fair work, schedules, and livable wages."

And this is coming from the city councilmembers that signed on to the letter. The signature of Seattle's interim mayor Tim Burgress is notably absent. Sawant, meanwhile, has called the letter "disingenuous and craven."

Needless to say, his confusing mix of hostile rhetoric and promises of greater cooperation is no way to change Amazon's mind about expanding its operations elsewhere—particularly given the sweetheart deals on offer from other cities.

Of course, those sweetheart deals are a bad idea too. Crony-capitalist giveaways are just as offensive to free market principles as Seattle's overregulation and taxation. If a city really wants to be a place that fosters companies as successful as Amazon, it should make its tax and regulatory burdens light for all comers.

CORRECTION: This article initially said that Economic Opportunity Institute Executive Director John Burbank drafted Seattle's 'Amazon Tax'.

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  1. Sawant is definitely one of the evil communists. The sort who are in it for the express purpose of gulags.

    1. The rare politician who carries herself completely without shame for her naked desire to be a tyrant. People around here love her.

  2. Tuscon even sent Amazon’s CEO a 21-foot cactus.

    I know a few people who were super embarrassed by us doing that. I still stand by it. We should have gone even crazier and sent a shit-ton of Mexican food, farm animals, gigantic lenses for telescopes, rocks, mexican people, everything. Just gone crazy with it. Tucson ain’t getting Amazon, might as well have fun with it.

    1. “Uh Jeff what do you want us to do with this crate of dead roadrunners?”

      1. “Put them next to that ACME crate full of exploded coyote’s…”

        1. Tucson has enough dead coyotes and roadrunners to satisfy even the most jaded Seattlite.

        2. Damn, y’all are fast.

      2. [sigh] “Put it over there with the pinatas and the Gonzalez family.”

      3. “feed them to that coyote they sent us. But handle that box marked ‘ACME’ *very* carefully”

    2. “We also got a pallet with 10,000 DVDs of Capricorn One

      1. At least give us 3:10 to Yuma.

        1. And the Batman guy with the bum leg who can run across rooftops when needed for the plot?

  3. Notably my home city of Dallas is putting forward proposals to Amazon to open their new Headquarters here.

    I’m thinking there’s at least a chance that will happen. I’m not even going to lie about it, I hope they do because I’m ready to GTFO of medical.

    1. I was thinking there or the Boulder area as well. Both seem to becoming a bigger tech hub recently. I still wonder if I should have taken that Google Boulder offer…

      1. I probably would have, but it really depends on what role. If for no other reason than because Colorado has a certain legal something not to mention skiing. Plus, I hate the god damn heat.

        1. Eh, I don’t like weed anyway. My choice was Google Boulder doing database engineering or Seattle area doing Machine Learning stuff.

      2. I used to live in Boulder. You better like prairie dogs, because they run the place.

        1. No better or worse than the rabbit problem in McKinney I’d guess.

          1. Both are fine with the right seasoning and a good choice of wood for the barbecue.

    2. While Dallas probably wins the “stable and business friendly environment” criteria, I’m betting it’s way down the list on the “cultural community fit” criteria.

      1. Austin wins the cultural fit criteria, but they suck at business.

        They need to be in Round Rock, near Dell. Lots of coders in the Austin area.

        Also puts them near their large fulfillment operations in Dallas.

      2. Yeah, I believe you’re right on the money but no sane person tries to buy land or rent long term in Austin if they can possibly help it. Amazon could probably afford it, and it would probably be a good match, but Austin would tell them to fuck off. That’s how nuts they are there.

        The company has also said it was looking for a good “cultural community fit” with “local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company”, and it has encouraged bidding cities to include testimonials from other large companies.

        The irony of them saying this bit is that they basically want it both ways. They seem unable to connect the dots that they are the enemy to the types of people they want to work with.

        Apparently, Bezos is retarded when it comes to certain things. I mean, look how long they put up with Seattle. They had to have known this was coming all along. And you know what? Starbucks is next, if they haven’t left already.

        1. The city councils don’t mean it Amazon, they just get a little angry when they get drunk (on tax money). They really do love you.

        2. Starbucks is run by Seattlite commies though.

      3. Dallas city government is so corrupt it makes Seattle look like Jimmy Stewart is running it.

        But the city of Dallas itself is pretty liberal.

      4. While Dallas probably wins the “stable and business friendly environment” criteria, I’m betting it’s way down the list on the “cultural community fit” criteria.

        Which leaves Poughkeepsie and Kingston NY, on all those criteria. Too bad, there’s plenty of available office space now that NotSoBIGAnymore-Blue shut down most (or all in the case of Kingston) of their operations there. Well, they could try the also-abandoned IBM complex in Somers, it’s close enough to the “cultural community” of stinky old NYC. It’ll be a few more years before Westchester County becomes the shithole Seattle seems to be turning into (and I used to *like* Seattle too, back in the 1970s).

  4. “One councilmember, Kshama Sawant, reacted by yearning “to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership.””

    GREAT way to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

    1. Great way for a government stooge to turn your silk purse into their sow’s ear, you mean.

    2. She should check to see how much of the city pension fund is invested in Amazon stock.

      If she got her way would it become the DPCA (Democratic Peoples Company of Amazon) and would the rest of the United States have to cease doing business with it or face federal sanctions?

  5. Voting with their feet? Is that even legal?

    1. Once that curtain closes you can vote howeeeeeeever you want.

      1. This is why I always wipe down the little levers with alcohol wipes before voting.

    2. Don’t think Sawant isn’t right now working on Directive 10-290 (10-289 “improved”).

  6. I wonder if Sawant has ever had a take on an issue that wasn’t the stupidest possible reaction.

  7. “Local officials greeted Amazon’s initial announcement with an “I’ll never let you go” kind of rage. One councilmember, Kshama Sawant, reacted by yearning “to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership.”

    Yep, that’s just the kind of talk that’s needed to endear Seattle to Amazon.

    Not to mention a perfect recruiting tool to lure other companies to move there.

    1. The rest of that quote is “…so that they are run not for profit for a few, but in the interests of the majority of working people and of society.” This is a person, apparently, who see the best outcome as a totally socialistic set up and a virtual, if not literal, end to private capital. In other words, the government will take all and divvy out as it sees fit. That way we may all be poor, but by God we will be equal!

      1. Profits occur when a firm provides goods and/or services that the public values at an agreeable price, and keeps the cost to society for producing that good or service as low as possible.

        So the most profitable firms are already the ones running their business for the public good.

  8. Jesus, Kshama Sawant sounds like a Rand villain.

    Bezos Shrugged

    1. well, Bezos sounds like a rent-seeking crony trying to extract (extort?) concessions from cities for the pleasure of his setting up shop there.

      1. Making a deal to not get robbed is not extortion.

    2. Just because Bezos is better at the game than Jimmy Taggart doesn’t mean he’s any less loathsome; probably means he is more so.

  9. Sawant channleling Richard Ii, “You are villains and villians you shall remain!”

  10. “Amazon has tacitly acknowledged that policy factors are playing a role in its search for a home away from home. It lists “a stable and business friendly environment” as one of four key preferences for the site of its new headquarters.”

    Well, that takes New Jersey out of the running.

    I bet they aren’t considering any blue states at all.

    Maybe Nevada, although Nevada is more of a swing state.

    1. I’m kind of wondering if Phoenix might get it, but they seem rich enough that they might pay extra to stay away from the heat.

      1. Georgia has east cost ports, right to work laws, lots of other industries moving in from car plants to movie production, plus doesn’t Amazon City, Georgia have a nice ring to it?

        1. Imagine Bezos doing a video clip as Rhett Butler: frankly Kshama I don’t give a damn.

        2. Think you are right. Georgia was offered opportunity to form their own city like Disneyland Florida did. Amazon could likely do one better with its own county.

    2. NJ still has a chance. You can put your business there with a decent incentive, and your people can live in NY State and CT. Lots of left-leaning activities in the North East too.

    3. More like a blue city in a red state, like Austin.

  11. “we would like to work with you, other employers, employees, and contract workers to establish new policies around fair work, schedules, and livable wages.”

    Same old shit that started this ruckus.

  12. RE: Seattle to Amazon: Don’t Leave Me, Baby
    The city’s leaders try desperately to reset relations with the company while it searches for a new headquarters.

    Well, well, well.
    It appears the socialist turds finally figured they needed the capitalist pigs after all.

    1. UJ-
      The most essential ingredient in a socialist utopia is Other People’s Money.

    2. It’s not a new headquarters, it’s a second headquarters.

      1. For now…

  13. “Yeah, bitch, cry all you want, you’re getting what’s coming to you!

    “Oh, honey, I’m sorry, don’t go, I was just so concerned about social justice I simply forgot myself!

    “OK, be that way, leave, I don’t want you anyway, you capitalist exploiter!

    “Wait, darling, where are you going? We can work this out!”

  14. Sent this one to my proggie friends, digging into them deep before it inevitably turns petty and salty.

    1. This is only evidence that we need worldwide communism now. This will prevent escape of these monster corporations to greener pastures, thereby denying them the freedom to exploit workers in locales where the government has been bought out to side with corporations over people.

  15. If the Commie Councilmember wants to put Amazon into “democratic public ownership” (and subsequently ruin the company), the old fashioned way is to buy a majority stake, currently at a cost of about $240 billion. A government take over without compensation will be barred by the Fifth Amendment, unless a conservative justice has a heart attack and in a show of unity with Democrats, Trump appoints another Ginsburg.

    1. What if the Chief Justice decides it’s not a take-over, it’s a government agency acquisition?

  16. I ordered a jar of olives on Amazon, and they came with the lid damaged and the liquid drained out. I still used some in my bloody mary, and haven’t fallen ill. If Amazon comes to my home town, will this kind of thing be less likely?

    Otherwise “Here’s $7 billion, please give us 12 jobs” seems like a sucker’s deal.

    1. Maybe don’t click on the “Used” option when buying olives next time?

      1. Says someone who’s probably never even tried prechewed cuisine.

        1. /me snorts a marischino cherry through his nose.

    2. I’m not going to tout the benefits of Amazon, but Seattle’s chief complaint boils down to, we gave you $0 and you created 50,000 jobs, and we’re not happy with all those jobs because growth!

      Amazon is now the largest employer in Seattle- which used to be Boeing back in the heyday of… something. And the lionshare of those jobs are high paying- many starting in the six figure realm. This is the kind of revenue that seems to really piss of Seattle politicians. They look around and see they were able to blow several hundred million dollars fixing the homeless problem, and it got worse. See? Those Amazon dollars are clearly hurting us. Turn it off already, Amazon!

      1. Don’t forget gentrification. See, well paid, well educated people willing to move into an urban area and commute using public transit drives up housing values, which you’d think would be a good thing, except the shitty neighborhoods now have too many pale people in them, the crappy restaurants that made the “dirty dozen” have been replaced by hip new eateries, the run down homes have been renovated, and you can walk the streets without worried about getting gunned down in a drive by. It’s a cryin’ shame I tell ya’.

        1. eateries, the run down homes have been renovated, and you can walk the streets without worried about getting gunned down in a drive by.

          well, not so much in Seattle any more. Used to be that way, then the city council said they’d ‘fix’ the homeless problem “within ten years” about 11 years ago. Guess what happened? No, go ahead, guess?

          1. I was reading both of the candidates for mayor’s comments on the homelessness problem. And let me tell you, I think they’re really gonna fix it this time.

        2. But it’s changed the gritty urban character or something. Now there are coffee shops everywhere in Seattle. Oh, wait…

    3. It’s more like, “we promise not to steal 7 billion dollars from you, if you give us 10,000 jobs.”.

  17. And this is coming from the city councilmembers that signed on to the letter. The signature of Seattle’s interim mayor [Serial Fabulist] Tim Burgress is notably absent.

    Fixed.

  18. People’s Republic of Seattle will appropriate Amazon, for the peoples, and the peoples can run Amazon – right down to the group, and totally bankrupt it – for the peoples !!!

    1. But one-click ordering is unfair to small businesses, so that’s got to go. Same with free next-day delivery.

  19. Boeing moved its headquarters away from Seattle 15(??) years ago, partly for the same reasons.

  20. The reason that Seattle has been nasty to Amazon is because it’s too much of a good thing, making Seattle a very expensive place. In this day, there is no reason for Amazon to be located in Seattle; Amazon can pretty much go anywhere it wants (so long as it is in a big metro area) and be able to draw in talent, an not depend on a talent ecosystem to get talent, like the way that startups in Silly Valley or San Fran have to.

    As Bezos has expressed an affinity for places that have an old-city level of walkable neighborhoods, and a strong transit system so that employees don’t need to own a car – and most importantly has spare living capacity to be able to ramp up without skewing the cost of living – I think a place like Pittsburgh is high up on the list.

    1. It isn’t transit that makes cars unneeded in major cities, it’s having commercial and residential buildings in the same area. And Uber.

  21. I am just guessing here, but I think Bezos himself loves the far lefty ideas promoted by the Seattle government….until it affects his fortune.
    The idea that you would try to squash a company that brought jobs to your city is just so nuts…

  22. ” If a city really wants to be a place that fosters companies as successful as Amazon, it should make its tax and regulatory burdens light for all comers.”

    If they did that, they wouldn’t be so dependent on Amazon. They could say, “Well, if you don’t want to expand in Seattle, there are plenty of other companies that will. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

  23. “I’m sorry babe. It’s not you, it’s me”

  24. One councilmember, Kshama Sawant, reacted by yearning “to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership.”

    Some of these people are really bad at hiding their true, Chavezian natures.

  25. As someone who has lived in Seattle for ~13 years, all I can say is I wish these assholes had had this idea 10 years ago. They knew they were on a HUGE growth trajectory. I don’t think they thought they’d grow as fast as they did, but they knew it was going to be a LOT. They should have branched out years ago instead of cramming everything in here.

    My biggest problem is that the growth has come too fast, and too concentrated. Bezos put their entire workforce into what was already one of the most FUCKED traffic spots in the country, downtown/SLU. It’s a literal nightmare now, and it was awful before all the expansion.

    As a business owner, I think all these tech companies should spread their employment around a little more. I’ve never understood why they don’t. Having HQ in the valley or here makes sense, but once they get big they’re leaving probably tens of billions+ on the table by not operating in lower cost major cities.

    It’s not a problem to get people to move to Chicago, or Dallas, or Phoenix, or dozens of other cities… But it would save them countless billions in operating costs over time, AND it wouldn’t completely fuck up any single city like it has here.

    For those that don’t live in SF Bay Area (where I’m originally from) or Seattle, you literally can’t even comprehend how much these cities have changed and in how short a time span. They’re completely different, and for most long time residents, whether poor or wealthy, it’s been more negative than positive.

    1. We actually have MORE crime, along with a far lower real world standard of living for anybody that didn’t already own their house before the spikes… Even if you did your property taxes are through the roof, traffic is awful, and most of the cool stuff that gave the various neighborhoods actual character has been torn down and replaced with shitty apartment buildings.

      Shit changes, I get that. But the speed and the particulars really put SF and Seattle in a category of their own. If it had been rapidly growing, but maybe a notch or two down it would have done nothing but good. But bubbles and going in wild stops and fits is not necessarily the healthiest way to grow. Hence if it had been spread between more cities it would have done better for the company’s bottom line, their employees, residents of said cities, basically with little to no downside for anybody.

      A million bucks for a tiny lot with a small 3 bedroom house on it is not sustainable, or good for anybody. The quality of life of these 150K a year programmers is frankly shit in Seattle… Many have left SF because of costs, only to discover it’s not much better here. Which is why my low six figures (for now) ass is going to be moving somewhere where I can live like a king and has a business friendly environment for my company. Making 6 figures and struggling is some serious bullshit. Methinks this bubble here will not last much longer, and this Amazon thing could literally be what makes the big POP kick off.

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