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Northern Virginia is keeping Amazon’s 25,000 jobs, and wants you to know it

Northern Virginia is keeping Amazon’s 25,000 jobs, and wants you to know it

Their message: Their region has its act together, they have been far more prepared, and they were free of drama
Northern Virginia is keeping Amazon’s 25,000 jobs, and wants you to know it
A UPS driver delivers packages along Center Boulevard in Long Island City, Queens, Feb. 14, 2019.
Photographer: Benjamin Norman/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — When Amazon canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City this week, officials more than 200 miles away in Northern Virginia decided to make a statement.

Their message: Their region has its act together, they have been far more prepared, and they were free of drama.

The comments came from those in the area that has branded itself National Landing, an amalgamation of Arlington and Alexandria neighborhoods that was the other winner in Amazon’s sweepstakes last year to award massive new campuses.


But after landing Amazon, National Landing faded from the spotlight as attention focused on New York City. In New York, lawmakers, progressive activists and union leaders began contending that Amazon, one of the world’s biggest tech companies, did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives to open a campus there.

The politicking grew heated. Then came Amazon’s very public breakup with New York on Thursday.

“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward,” Amazon said about New York in a statement.

In Northern Virginia, officials wasted little time. Within hours, Christian Dorsey, chairman of the Arlington County Board, held a call with reporters.

“I can’t speculate what went wrong” in New York, Dorsey said, “and I don’t really care to think about it much." But he discussed how his area had done a better job of planning for Amazon, persuading the company to come and then rolling out an infrastructure and development plan to make its arrival possible.

“It highlighted a particular community dynamic in a region that has its act together,” Dorsey said. He added that Amazon hadn’t changed its plans to bring 25,000 jobs to National Landing by 2030, with the potential to increase that to 38,000 employees later.

Monica Backmon, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, was even more direct.

“Oh, yes, we are pleased,” she said. “It speaks to certainty that we know what we are doing and put a lot of planning and effort early on into it.”

From the beginning, Virginia officials said, their preparations differed sharply from those of other cities that applied to Amazon. Residents and others were generally welcoming, in contrast to the steady drumbeat of protests in New York.

For years, the region had planned and made improvements to roads, subways, trains and bike lanes to accommodate a major corporation like Amazon, Backmon said.

A bipartisan state board of legislative leaders that reviews major incentive deals had many hours of discussions on Amazon before an agreement was reached for the new campus, said Stephen Moret, who runs the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“The fact that that group exists and was so heavily engaged periodically throughout the 14 months was a major contributor for how well things have rolled out at the state level,” Moret said in a recent interview. He said Arlington and Alexandria officials had been briefed about Amazon in closed sessions multiple times as well.

Late last month, the Virginia Legislature overwhelmingly passed a $750 million incentive package for Amazon, which the governor signed into law. It provides Amazon with $550 million in grants for the first 25,000 jobs it creates, and $200 million more for creating 12,850 additional jobs in subsequent years.

Officials in Nashville, Tennessee, which landed a smaller development project from Amazon, with about 5,000 jobs, also drew distinctions between their approach and New York’s. The city and Tennessee offered a combined $102 million in tax incentives, significantly less per job than New York’s multibillion-dollar promise. And Nashville’s offer didn’t come with some of the attention-grabbing perks that New York’s did.

“We don’t have a helipad,” said Thomas Mulgrew, press secretary for Mayor David Briley, referring to New York’s promise to help Amazon secure access to a helicopter-landing facility near its planned Queens campus. “I read that and thought, ‘Oof, that’s going to be a tough one.'”

Critics of Amazon and its expansion strategy celebrated the company’s withdrawal from New York as a victory and said they were emboldened to turn their sights on Northern Virginia and Nashville.

“Do not come to our cities expecting to ignore the democratic process and hoard the resources that our communities desperately need,” Local Progress, an organization of local officials, said in a statement.

Stand Up Nashville, an activist group that has criticized the Amazon project, and other groups have been working for months to rally opposition to the deal and to push for more community involvement in the process. The news from New York this week injected new energy into the movement — and is likely to increase attendance at a public forum the groups were already planning for Friday evening.

“Since the announcement yesterday, the event has just exploded,” said Anne Barnett, a Stand Up Nashville co-chairwoman. “There’s more interest now than ever.”

Northern Virginia officials said they recognized that there could be similar protests in their area. But they said their relationship with Amazon was strong.

“They have been a completely honest broker,” said Dorsey of the Arlington County Board. “We feel good about their relations thus far.”

Amazon did not immediately return a call for comment.


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