Two weeks after killing a deal to build a new campus in New York City, Amazon is expressing lots of love for the company's remaining second headquarters site -- Arlington, Virginia.
"We want to locate in a community where not only our company but our employees are welcome, and we feel that in Arlington," said Amazon's worldwide head of economic development, Holly Sullivan, speaking before a crowd of local real estate types at an event sponsored by the news website Bisnow.
Sullivan said the company sent a representative around to bars and coffeeshops while they were vetting sites in Crystal City, the dull collection of office buildings just across the river from Washington, DC, chatting up residents to see what they thought of Amazon coming to the area.
In contrast, Amazon had faced fierce opposition from local politicians in Queens as well as some activist groups, although polls showed that the majority of New York residents supported their plan to put 25,000 workers in Long Island City.
"We think we could’ve gotten New York done, but you always have to say, what are the costs?" Sullivan said. "We think we made a very prudent decision that gives us an opportunity to hyper-focus on Virginia."
The path to getting a nearly $3 billion package of tax incentives negotiated in New York by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had been complicated by a shift in power in New York's state senate. In Virginia, however, the $750 million incentive package sailed through the legislature and was signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in early February.
Yet a handful of protesters interrupted Thursday’s event for several minutes, chanting a demand for public hearings on the Amazon deal. They were met with boos from the sold-out audience, before being shepherded out.
New York officials, while mourning Amazon's decision to scratch plans for New York, have also said that Amazon's public relations strategy was partly to blame for local opposition, along with "misinformation" about the nature of tax incentives.
"I think they were not prepared in the way they reacted," said New York City Economic Development Corporation director James Patchett in a speech hosted by Crain's New York Business last week. "They didn’t perform particularly well during their public hearings. They never hired a single New Yorker. They never really connected with people in the city."
Amazon only informed officials that it had chosen Long Island City 24 hours before planning to make a public announcement, Patchett said, which left them scrambling to organize the rollout.