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Lamont jumps in as Amazon plan for New York falters

February 8, 2019

The Amazon welcome party is back on in Connecticut, with a new cast of characters and new hope based on the retail juggernaut showing second thoughts about New York City.

All that backlash in the city from politicians unhappy about Amazon’s decision to locate a headquarters with 25,000 people in Queens seems to be having an effect. The Washington Post reported Friday that the Seattle-based company is reconsidering its choice.

Quickly, Gov. Ned Lamont fired off a pair of Tweets: “Upon the 1st indication - days ago - that there may be trouble with @Amazon’s proposed deal with #NY, we mobilized our new Partnership to Advance the Connecticut of Tomorrow - and more specifically, @CERCInc co-chairs Indra Nooyi and Jim Smith, to construct a path forward.”

Lamont added: “The state has already made an outreach to @Amazon through its in-state representation, and we are looking forward to expanding the dialogue.”

Win or lose, dreamland or reality, this is a chance for the new governor to put in place the exact sort of rapid-response recruitment he’s been talking about for weeks — with the team he put in place one week ago. Okay, so the players aren’t all in place, for example, David Lehman, the nominee for economic development commissioner, is still wrapping things up at Goldman Sachs.

Is the New Connecticut capable of stealing Amazon from the icy grips of Gotham City? Is there even a New Connecticut?

Lamont isn’t the only one mobilizing. In Stamford, Joe McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, worked the phones Friday — and took calls from people with the same idea — to formulate what could be a very innovative, 13th-hour bid.

“The Bronx and Fairfield County. Who would ever put that marriage together? They want to grow, and we’re all on the New Haven rail line,” McGee said. “It could be a great two-state solution.”

Stamford, you’ll recall, was one of several bid sites for the Amazon co-headquarters prize. All the Connecticut locales were nixed early by Amazon — but this new development could change the game.

Lamont’s office wasn’t saying whether Amazon has shown any interest. The company, in the Washington Post story, said it was working with neighbors in Long Island City to win them over.

“This is Day 1 in Connecticut,” said Smith, the economic resource center co-chairman, who, along with Nooyi, is charged with recruiting companies from out of state. “We’ve already mobilized dozens of people inside Connecticut.”

Details of any Connecticut plan are just coming together. My two cents: Don’t bother dusting off the Hartford portion. This is about nearness to New York, period.

The Amazon bids attracted just about every state with a metro area of at least 1 million people, as Amazon required. Connecticut’s official state bids were from Stamford and greater Hartford, and others — including Danbury and the consortium of Bridgeport and New Haven — put in wildcat bids.

As it was, Amazon came under heavy fire for picking New York City and Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., to split the east coast headquarters. Those were the safe, humdrum options and a company that mighty could have created a whole new ballgame, and a new way of thinking, with its $5 billion award.

McGee is talking about four new commuter rail stations being built in the Bronx along the Hellgate line that connects New Rochelle and the Metro North line to Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan. Amazon aside, he’s had talks with Bronx officials who are looking to tha tborough as the next frontier of growth.

Linchpin for a massive development proposal with Connecticut? Stamford is, after all, the closest metro to Long Island City, the section of Queens where Amazon proposed the development.

“Yep, it’s a crazy idea,” McGee said, “but sometimes crazy ideas are things where people go, ‘I should take a look at that.’”

McGee said. “Let’s just erase the political boundary. What does the economic boundary look like? It’s about workforce availability, it’s about land, it’s about revitalizing communities and that whole initiative in the Bronx and in Connecticut.”

Many politicians in New York oppose the plan because it could drive out middle-class residents, and would require as much as $1.3 billion in subsidies for one of the world’s richest and largest corporations — controlled by Jeffrey Bezos, far and away the workld’s richest human.

Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which did not cite sources in its story.

“Connecticut should think that we have a level shot at anything that we go after, said Smith, who’s working with Nooyi, the recently retired PepsiCo chair and CEO. “The first thing that people have to figure out is whether this is real or is it part of the process.”

Amazon could easily be putting out a trial balloon to bluff New York officials to line up behind the Queens plan. That’s one of a million things we don’t know.

And of course, every city in America will be at Amazon’s portal for this new round of groveling.

For Connecticut, what we’re really talking about is a sort of trip to the economic gym — have some fun, build up some development muscles and maybe, just maybe, notch a huge win.

One weakness for Stamford is the tough trip to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which is hard by the chosen Amazon site. Yes, McGee notes, there is Westchester County Airport nearby, which can expand — but it’s no coincidence Amazon placed itself practically on top of major airports.

Then there’s the workforce. It’s great in Stamford, but not New York great in huge numbers, when it comes to tech jobs.

”Our attitude is that all opportunities, whether previously explored or not, are on the table and to the extent that they are consistent with the governor’s approach...all in,” Smith, said.

“Sometimes,” Smith said, “there are those ‘drop everything’ moments and you go for it.”

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