The HQ2 Scam: How Amazon Used a Bidding War to Scrape Cities’ Data

The news of the lucky winners—New York and Virginia—exposes the bad faith of Amazon’s much-hyped search.

By David Dayden and cross-posted from In These Times

Over the past year, mayors and governors nationwide have fallen over themselves to offer cash bribes to Amazon to court its second headquarters, billed as a “full equal” to its Seattle home base. Two hundred and thirty-eight cities submitted bids to attract HQ2, as it was quaintly known, stuffed with billions of dollars in government subsidies and detailed plans for how to accommodate Amazon employees’ housing and transportation needs. Some of these bids were borderline absurd: Chicago offered Amazon the income tax receipts from its own staff.

Practically every other multinational corporation in the world opens branch offices in other cities without fanfare. Google’s offices in Berlin, London and New York are not considered second or third headquarters – they’re just regional offices. Google is reportedly expanding its New York footprint, in fact.

HQ2 was supposed to bring  50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment to the lucky winner. But then the New York Times broke the story this week that Amazon will place offices in Crystal City, Virginia—home of the Pentagon—and Long Island City, New York. That means the promised jobs and investment will be cut in half. Will the subsidy packages be halved as well? We have no idea, because the HQ2 bids from Virginia and New York City are officially a secret.

If it was impossible for one company to have two headquarters, it’s really impossible to have three. These are just regional offices. In fact, they’re extensions of the offices Amazon already have in the New York and Washington metro areas. The two cities have the tech-savvy workforce, transportation hubs, and education pipelines Amazon asked for in its solicitations.

They are also critical to Amazon’s not-at-all-secret quest for world domination. Amazon thrives on government contracts and close collaborations with defense and intelligence operations, so D.C. is a natural fit. It’s also where Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos just bought a giant mansion in which to hold salons, and the local newspaper. Bezos also has a home in New York, which is the center of the corporate universe, home to the head offices of Amazon suppliers and partners, as well as the nation’s advertising mecca, a field that Amazon has been aggressively pushing into lately.

Cities of the stature of New York or Washington have been pulling away from the rest of the country economically for years. Of course Amazon would need to have personnel there. Amazon knew that creating the pretense of a bidding war would pressure major cities to offer lavish packages, running up the payouts the company could extract. But we should raise the question: Why would any politician give away ten cents in subsidies to bring in a company that they know will set up shop anyway?… 

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