Amazon Lessons From Seattle
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What lies ahead for Arlington, Va., and New York City now that they will be home to new headquarters for Amazon? One way to find out is to study the city that has been headquarters for Amazon up to now. Carolyn Adolph reports from member station KUOW in Seattle.
CAROLYN ADOLPH, BYLINE: Seattle city planners thought they'd get 18,000 workers when they signed up to put Amazon in a neighborhood north of downtown. They got 45,000 people and 6,000 dogs.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)
ADOLPH: And that's just the headquarters. People here cross the street in packs. The Whole Foods at noon rivals Grand Central Station, and lunch is a huge affair.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRYING PAN SIZZLING)
ADOLPH: Workers in this restaurant are frying up a mountain of meat. Kamala Saxton is one of the owners.
KAMALA SAXTON: You know, the hope is it's less than half an hour 'cause we know that people don't have lunch hours. But it's booming. It's busy.
ADOLPH: Just outside of Washington, D.C., Arlington is planning for at least 25,000 Amazon jobs. New York City is doing the same, where Amazon will set up shop in Queens. But here's the thing. Amazon calculates that in Seattle, another 50,000 jobs were created. More tech companies, as well as more pet spas and coffee shops. The Seattle region gained 300,000 people in the last four years.
DOW CONSTANTINE: You know, we didn't realize what was going to happen.
ADOLPH: Dow Constantine is county executive here.
CONSTANTINE: And this is the first time Amazon happened. And (laughter) so we were, I think, asleep at the switch a little bit.
ADOLPH: The speed of Amazon's growth caught Seattle by surprise. Demand for apartments swamped neighborhoods near the headquarters, pushing people out. Bidding wars doubled home prices, triggering tax increases. And traffic congestion stepped on Seattle's last nerve.
CONSTANTINE: Those are all things that we should have anticipated.
ADOLPH: Arlington says it has planned for decades for this kind of opportunity. A New York tech executive said the city can easily absorb the headquarters of Amazon's size. But some locals in these places disagree, and Seattle found that it struggled with homelessness. As Amazon grew, people started sleeping in tents and vehicles all over Seattle, and the cost of services to them was exploding.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting, unintelligible).
ADOLPH: Last spring, the city council decided to tax Amazon and other employers to raise money for shelters. At a neighborhood meeting, Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien explained why.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE O'BRIEN: When I look at Amazon's profits in the first quarter of last year where they made more than $2 billion and I look at the folks that are doing well in this environment, that seems like a fair system to me.
ADOLPH: It was a tax the council passed and quickly repealed. But other tech towns already know Seattle's pain. Voters in San Francisco and Mountain View, Calif., just passed corporate head taxes of their own. In Arlington and New York, it's the reverse. Instead of fighting a tax, Amazon negotiated incentives that add up to $2 billion in the company's favor. In Seattle, King County executive Dow Constantine says beware.
CONSTANTINE: All of this prosperity, all this business success brings some unintended consequences.
ADOLPH: Seattle found those consequences expensive.
CONSTANTINE: Plan ahead for housing. Recognize that housing is going to become more expensive, and protect the people who already live in the communities.
ADOLPH: Amazon says it will start hiring in New York and D.C. as early as next year. For NPR News, I'm Carolyn Adolph in Seattle.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.