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Private Train Cars, Murder Task Forces, Captain Kirk: Cities Offered Amazon Some Weird Shit

But none of it is a substitute for developing a robust and vibrant economy. And neither is landing a single big employer like Amazon.

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomErik McGregor/Pacific Press/NewscomAmazon will build its new corporate headquarters in Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, after conducting a months-long bidding process that at one point had literally hundreds of American and Canadian cities trying to to woo the retail and web services giant with taxpayer-funded givaways large and small.

In the end, it looks like Amazon picked New York and Virginia for strategic and symbolic reasons that go beyond the specific goodies promised by policymakers in either place.

Of course, there are still plenty of goodies. New York will give Amazon more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks, let the company do whatever it wants with the land it will occupy in Long Island City (good luck dodging city codes if you're a small business in Brooklyn), and it will build a private helicopter pad for Amazon executives to use. Sadly, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo won't be following through on his promise to change his name to "Amazon Cuomo."

But in picking New York and Virginia, Amazon left some of the more bizarre offers on the table—many of which Buzzfeed highlighted in a story published Thursday.

Atlanta, for example, would have given Amazon executives a private lounge in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and offered to rename a major street "Alexa Way" after the Amazon in home spying device digital personal assitant. The city also promised Amazon a private car on each train running through the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system, as a way to "distribute products around the city."

Personally, I'm surprised Atlanta didn't promise to let Amazon executives have exclusive access to the city's streetcar-to-nowhere, since no one rides that thing anyway.

Not to be outdone, Chicago offered Amazon more than $2 billion in tax breaks and grants. But every city and state has plenty of other peoples' money to burn on crony capitalism, it seems, so Chicago tried to sweeten its pitch with the original Captain Kirk. Yes, William Shatner provided the voice-over to the city's over-produced-but-underwhelming video message that failed to mention anything uniquely interesting about Chicago except that it once had a big fire. Seriously, if you ignore the one line about the fire, Shatner's voiceover could be describing any metropolitian area in the whole country.

We don't know how much Chicago spent on marketing itself to Amazon, but hopefully this video cost less than the cool half-million dollars Philadelphia spent on advertising itself, also unsuccessfully.

Columbus, Ohio, probably wins the prize for the weirdest promise made to Amazon. On top of a half-billion dollar subsidy and 100 percent property tax abatement, Ohio's capital city pledged to create a special task force to reduce its "unacceptable murder rate."

This was probably an attempt to smooth over any concerns Amazon's bosses might have had about locating in a place where the mayor had recently declared that too many people were getting killed. But residents and business owers in Columbus might be left wondering why reducing the murder rate would be tied to Amazon deciding to move there—and not the wellbeing of people who live there now (and are being murdered). With Amazon heading elsewhere, is Columbus going to invest fewer resources in reducing murders than it otherwise would have?

There's an important lesson here. City officials ought to put more effort into creating a strong local economy that makes people and businesses want to locate there. That means doing things like trying to limit how many people get murdered in your city, yes, but also in not doing dumb things, like wasting tax dollars on silly streetcars. Cities taxing and regulating the living daylights out of incumbent businesses and local entrepeneurs while offering special deals to corporate behemoths is an affront to the people who invested themselves without first demanding an exception. Cities should be looking to create a tax and regulatory climate that allows all residents and businesses to prosper, rather than cutting special deals that free major corporations from high taxes, oppressive land use policies, or restrictive zoning rules.

The real "winners" in the Amazon sweepstakes are places that decided not to play, like San Antonio, Texas. "We have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn't our style," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote in an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last year. Or Toronto, which submitted a bid for the HQ2 but declined to offer any special economic development schemes. "Frankly, we feel we don't need to play that game," Toby Lennox, the CEO of Toronto Global, an organization that promotes the city's business community, told the CBC.

The politicians in those places won't win any special accolades for "creating jobs"—or "buying jobs," as The Wall Street Journal editorial board says of deals like the ones Amazon struck in New York and Virginia. Doing the right thing won't get their names in splashy newspaper stories or lead to a press conferences with the world's richest man.

Fostering a vibrant economy that allows businesses of every shape and size to prosper should be its own reward. Especially since that's the kind of place businesses should want to go.

Photo Credit: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Newscom

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  • Dillinger||

    >>>months-long bidding process

    misspelled "tribute". tribute process.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Andrew Cuomo claims he had to Amazon 15 billion in incentives because the NYS tax code is noncompetitive and Amazon would have gone to Texas otherwise. Cuomo has only been governor for eight years, if only he had the chance to suggest tax reforms to lessen NYS competitive disadvantage in that regard.

  • DesigNate||

    But that wouldn't have provided him and the democrats all that sweet sweet graft.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    This demonstrates the difference between a politician who wants to make life better for his constituents and a politician who wants to skim from his constituents to attract famous people to his dinner table.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If James Kirk can't talk the Amazon machine into self-destructing then I don't know what will stop it.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Columbus, Ohio, probably wins the prize for the weirdest promise made to Amazon. On top of a half-billion dollar subsidy and 100 percent property tax abatement, Ohio's capital city pledged to create a special task force to reduce its "unacceptable murder rate."

    So they'll do this for Amazon, but not the people who live there. That's just great.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Apparently the mayor and other city "leaders" in Columbus, OH consider Jeff Bezos' employees to be better and more worthy of protection than the people who currently live there.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    But now Amazon is liable for every murder in Columbus. The mayor and city "leaders" are off the hook.

  • Aloysious||

    The murder rate was only unacceptable if Amazon moved there. Now, well...

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Some locals may believe the murder rate for politicians in Columbus is unacceptable.

  • Brandybuck||

    A small part of me, the small part that still believes in unicorns, was secretly hoping that Amazon would have gone with some small town in the middle of nowhere that promised to "treat Amazon just like every other business, and nothing more".

    Sigh.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • TangoDelta||

    Get ready kids because believe it or not the NFL et al. have just taken a page from Amazon's playbook.

    Wait, maybe Amazon took a page from NBA's, no, it's just.

    Oh yeah! Politicians are that dumb and it's all the same game regardless of who's raping the public.

  • CE||

    I had a waitress named Alexa once.
    I said "Alexa, bring me another double IPA".
    And she did.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    If her last name was occasio-Cortez, I hope you checked your wallet to make sure you still had it. I hear Alexa needs to rent a luxury apartment she simply can't afford on her meager six figures+ congressional salary, and she's of the persuasion that the hardworking of the world owe her and her friends.

  • Kurt U||

    Greetings Dr. Falken.
    A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

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