Opened with a Talking Heads reference and sealed with a kiss from Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore's bid for Amazon's second national headquarters was sent on its way yesterday in a ceremony at Port Covington, with politicians and officials from the city and state hoping they will be the last contestant standing with a rose. Or, rather, a new corporate campus.
Port Covington, of course, is the site of Under Armour's future corporate campus, for which the city has already shoveled in $660 million. And local leaders think it will also make a good home for Jeff Bezos' company.
Details about the city and state's offer are not yet clear, but The Sun reports the tax breaks and funding for transportation projects will number in the billions.
"I can tell you that the state has never put together an incentive package like this before," Gov. Larry Hogan told The Sun. "It's going to be mind-boggling for the folks at Amazon."
Hogan and Pugh see very much eye-to-eye on the subject of paying private companies to move here, and the promise of 50,000 high-tech, six-figure-salary jobs is unprecedented.
And Amazon expects to be wooed, turning the search for a second home into a game show where states and municipalities compete to throw down the most cash and incentives. For its part, Amazon pledges to spend $5 billion building its new palatial digs.
This is a good thing, we're told.
It goes without saying that the city has numerous problems—lead paint removal, poor public transportation, violence, vacant houses on the verge of collapse, a failing sewer system, and on and on—that could use funding or new programs. Rather than fix those, our leaders have decided it would be better to attract a shiny white-collar workforce of tech professionals, who will all want to live and work in the city, no doubt, and new bars, stores, and apartment towers will open up and everything will be A-OK.
And some of that has happened in Amazon's current hometown, Seattle, where the company occupies more square footage than the next 43 companies combined, according to a long report in the Seattle Times. There are some negative side effects to this: The Times reports rents are 63 percent higher than they were just seven years ago, and home prices have doubled since 2012 and are rising faster than anywhere else in the country.
The number of mega-commuters—people traveling at least 90 minutes to work each way—has gone up 72 percent in the last five years. In other words, poor and working-class people are getting pushed out. As Business Insider notes, the listing aggregator Apartment List projects Baltimore rents would go up 1 to 1.3 percent per year over the next decade, costing renters $9,241 to $12,214 in that time.
The company's exact methodology is unclear, but it's considering the right factors: slack (vacancies) in the housing market, difficulty-to-build, and median existing income are among the major factors the company says it considered, according to Apartment List Data Scientist Andrew Woo. And the idea makes sense: an influx of 50,000 highly-paid people would certainly tend to drive up prices.
And there's also this to consider: Amazon is a pretty shitty company. To say nothing of its grueling, toxic corporate culture and the poor conditions at its distribution warehouses, Amazon's all-powerful distribution network was built using a similar competition that pits states and towns against each other.
A new analysis by American City Business Journals, the parent company of the Baltimore Business Journal and several dozen other papers, shows that local governments have kicked in $1.24 billion to lure distribution centers, even though Amazon, a company with $30 billion cash on hand, needs these warehouses to maintain its dominance in e-commerce.
That dominance has been proven to be a cancer for retailers big and small. In effect, these payments to bring in jobs help kill off other ones. And increasingly, the job of packing and shipping your Amazon order is done by a robot.
But Baltimore and Maryland are dancing for Bezos anyway. Maybe it won't be such a bad thing if they get spurned, but only if they realize the billions in goodies for Amazon would go a long way to help the people already here.
Edward Ericson Jr. contributed to this report