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Opinion: Amazon and Newark Perfect Together?

Why New Jersey’s largest city should make a serious bid to become site of e-commerce giant’s second North American headquarters

andrew sidamon-eristoff
Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff

On September 7, Amazon announced plans to build a second corporate headquarters in North America (“HQ2”) that will be home base for up to 50,000 highly paid Amazon employees and cost as much as $5 billion. With proposals due October 19, the announcement has already sparked the development of hundreds of applications, including serious bids from nearly every major tech-savvy city in the U.S. and Canada.

Why not Newark? Seriously.

Before you dismiss the idea, consider Amazon’s published site selection criteria:

“In choosing the location for HQ2, Amazon has a preference for:

  • Metropolitan areas with more than one million people

  • A stable and business-friendly environment

  • Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent

  • Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options

“HQ2 could be, but does not have to be:

  • An urban or downtown campus

  • A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus

  • A development-prepped site. We want to encourage states/provinces and communities to think creatively for viable real estate options, while not negatively affecting our preferred timeline"

Now consider these facts about Newark:

✔ Newark is strategically located at the center of a metropolitan region with more than 19 million people and the nation’s largest consumer market.

✔ Newark boasts outstanding local and regional transportation links and the East Coast’s premier access to global supply chains.

✔ New Jersey offers some of the nation’s most competitive economic development incentives. And thanks to strong bipartisan leadership, New Jersey and Newark have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to engage corporate America with specific incentives to strengthen urban economies and communities. Examples include Prudential’s game-changing expansion in Newark.

✔ Northern New Jersey is home to one of the nation’s most highly-educated workforces and is a short train ride away from Manhattan and New York City’s deep pool of technical talent. Changing demographics and societal preferences, especially among highly educated tech-savvy young professionals, are making resurgent urban areas like Newark a magnet for talent. There is a reason that Audible.com — an Amazon-owned company — and other emerging tech companies are choosing Newark as a place to invest and grow.

✔ Newark already has large development-ready sites with second-to-none digital connectivity that could easily accommodate a next-generation corporate campus customized to meet Amazon’s needs.

✔ Newark is now in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, with a total of $2 billion in commercial and residential investment now underway or in the pipeline, including One Theater Square, redevelopment of the Hahne's Department Store, and Teacher’s Village. Nonetheless, land and other costs of doing business in Newark remain affordable compared to New York City and other serious potential competitors.

On the merits, New Jersey’s largest city can and should be very competitive. For the sake of Newark’s residents and all New Jerseyans, Mayor Ras Baraka should work closely with Governor Chris Christie and his administration to put together the strongest possible proposal on Newark’s behalf. As part of that effort, the city and state should consider creating a non-partisan “host committee” of senior New Jersey business and civic leaders to advise and support Newark’s proposal going forward.

Yes, the odds are stacked against Newark for a host of reasons, most specifically New Jersey’s high cost of living and notoriously high taxes. And make no mistake: Talk of raising taxes on high-income taxpayers will only make selling Newark and New Jersey even more challenging. Nonetheless, Newark can’t win a high-stakes national-scale competition for economic development that it doesn’t enter, and the discipline of advancing a serious, competitive proposal will have positive side effects of its own, including greater civic and political sensitivity to the role of taxes and other components of regional competitiveness.

Go for it, Newark!

A former New Jersey state treasurer, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff has held cabinet-level appointive office in New York City and New York state as well as New Jersey. He is also a former member of the New York City Council.

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