As head of the city's Economic Development Corporation, James Patchett was at the center of the negotiations to bring Amazon to the city. And he was one the first people to learn last week that Amazon was pulling out of the deal.
“Needless to say, we were and are disappointed,” Patchett said in his first public comments about Amazon's withdrawal at a breakfast with the city’s business executives.
Patchett blamed the collapse of the deal on a lack of understanding about what the city and state offered to lure the Internet giant to Long Island City, Queens.
“I think the dialogue was so poisoned and so full of misinformation. To me, that is the central thing that prevented an honest conversation about it,” Patchett said.
That misinformation involved the $3 billion in grants and tax breaks critics derided.
“The way they were represented, I frequently found, was accepting the opponent’s argument as though this is a cash transfer at the outset, which we in this room know is not true,” Patchett said.
He pointed out that the deal called for Amazon to receive a billion dollars in discretionary grants. The rest of the $3 billion was money Amazon would not have had to pay in taxes over ten years if it met its promise of creating 25,000 jobs in New York City.
"Anyone familiar with the facts knows there was no $3 billion,” said Patchett.
He says Amazon was unprepared for the backlash from activists and politicians who opposed the deal, and failed to hire local consultants who could have helped get its message out. He also says his office could have done better, too.
“I think we need to do a better job of making people care about jobs and believe those would be the jobs they would get,” he said.
Although Amazon won't be building a huge campus in Queens, opponents are not done with the company. They gathered Thursday outside a building in Woodside, Queens. It is leased by Amazon to be a distribution center.
“Today is the first day that we come together to ensure that this warehouse is union job site,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee.
In response to the protest, Amazon said, “We work hard every day to ensure all of our employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect, and we have open and direct dialogue with employees around the country. We are proud to offer a wide variety of work opportunities, which include full-time and part-time employment, regular and flexible scheduling; work-on-site and work-from-home; or be your own boss through our Amazon Flex program where independent contractors earn between $18 to $25 per hour delivering Amazon packages. We have also empowered more than 100 new small package delivery businesses that have created thousands of local driver jobs, offering competitive pay and benefits. We are committed to continue investing in local aspiring entrepreneurs and creating hundreds of job opportunities with the new Amazon delivery station in Queens.”
Despite the collapse of the Amazon deal, Patchett says Amazon's decision to pick New York in the first place affirms that western Queens can be a commercial hub, the local tech economy is competitive, and the talent pool is strong. “Those fundamental strengths that Amazon validated will remain the case regardless of the perception of this event,” Patchett said.