After courting every city in America large enough to support its own Jimmy John’s franchise, Amazon is going to split its HQ2 between Long Island City in New York and Crystal City in the D.C. metro area. After all those governors, mayors, and even the Oak Ridge Boys begged Jeff Bezos to pick their city, the commerce conglomerate ultimately picked America’s largest city and its capital. It’s the equivalent of asking every microbrewery in America to enter into your contest to find the nation’s best beer, then after they invest significant time and expense, announcing that the winners are Budweiser and Bud Light.
Besides being boring, what does Amazon’s location choice signal? According to CNN’s Jill Filipovic, the predictable selections mean that, “Republicans can no longer lay claim to being a pro-business party, successful as they’ve been at making the states they control increasingly undesirable to modern businesses and workers.” She also says the lack of a commitment to public education and transportation in Republican states was a determining reason Amazon didn’t pick a Republican-governed state.
While her claims make a tidy point for Democrats, they’re not really true. It is unclear if New York really does have great public schools. For instance, if you cross the river into Manhattan from the Long Island City location, more than 70 percent of kids go to private grade schools. And while New York has a number of good universities (Columbia, New York University, Fordham) — they’re all private. It seems exceedingly unlikely that Amazon is choosing its location in order to take advantage of being just a three-hour drive from New York’s top public school — SUNY Binghamton.
Also, while D.C. and New York do have extensive public transportation networks, its not clear how helpful that is to the cities’ workers, who have the first- and second-longest commutes in the country.
The idea that Amazon is moving to these cities because of their educated work forces or their efficient transit systems is a farce. The transit systems are falling apart. Whenever it rains in New York, water flows through the soiled subway stations like blood through the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” The Metro in D.C. fares no better, starting on fire so often the Twitter feed “Is Metro On Fire” has garnered more than 5,000 followers.
It is also not like it is hard to find college graduates in this country, since 40 percent of Americans have graduated college. If you want someone with a graduate degree, just announce so in a Starbucks and you’ll have 20 unemployed people putting down their MacBooks and raising their hands — half of whom are working behind the counter.
If Amazon were smart (and they are — this is a company that convinces customers to pay them to install Amazon-branded listening devices in their homes), the retailer would have glossed over the data on school spending and focused on even more appealing statistics for the areas, like the fact that New York and D.C. are routinely found at or near the top studies of studies for most hours worked.
Or the fact that the two locations trail the national averages for religious involvement by significant margins. Or the fact that New York ranks 49th in community engagement satisfaction, and Virginia isn’t far behind. In the real New York, there are no wacky neighbors bursting into your apartment. The only time you talk to someone in your building is when you think the doorman lost your food delivery.
Most importantly, family obligations in these locations are limited. Only 35 percent of New York City adults were born in-state (so no parents dropping in for dinner), and the average college-educated woman in Manhattan doesn’t have a child until she is 33 — about four years later than the same kind of woman who lives in Dallas.
So how do people find fulfillment if they don’t have religion, a sense of community, or a family? Hopefully by devoting their life to finding a way to ship mouthwash to people’s doors for ten cents cheaper in order to make Bezos even richer. The unfortunate truth is that Amazon is not looking for intelligent people or educated people, it is looking for people willing to prioritize having Amazon on the LinkedIn profile over every other aspect of their life.
The retail conglomerate has a notoriously brutal reputation for what it expects from employees. Former Amazon HR executives describe a “purposeful Darwinism” in the way that the company fires people perceived to be under-performing. An employee in “book marketing” reported that he saw nearly every person crying at his or her desk at some point.
When you consider that these are Amazon’s values, it is no wonder that the retailer is setting up shop in the land of work-addicted corporate lawyers, investment bankers, lobbyists, and management consultants. People in these industries are so obsessed with work that Goldman Sachs had to institute a rule forcing junior bankers go home from 9 p.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Sunday.
If you’re Amazon, you have to love a culture where telling your employees to answer work emails from home on a Saturday makes you look like you just had the existential breakdown of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire. All these other cities worked hard on their pitch videos, but all along, New York had Bezos at “hello…. our interns are literally working themselves to death.”
So don’t let PR executives tell you this is about community values or the children. It’s about the absence of community and children, and the fact that if an Amazon employee does buck the trend and procreate, that just means she’ll have to work that much harder in order to pay for the mortgage on her $1.4 million, 600-square-foot apartment.
So yes, it is true that Amazon selected these liberal cities because of their values. But before anyone starts gloating, he should take a step back and question if that is really something to be celebrating.