Arlington Welcomes Amazon 5-0 As Crowd Screams

Crowd at Arlington Board meeting Saturday March 16. Source: Arlington Now

The Arlington Board of Supervisors endured six hours of public hearing marked by local hooligans screaming at Amazon company representatives, then voted 5-0 Saturday for the modest local incentive package negotiated to bring the tech giant to a new location near Reagan National Airport and Crystal City.

A review of the final county staff presentation (here) puts the $51 million in identified incentives, spread out over several years, side by side with the $174 million in projected local taxes over the first 12 years, and the $342 million in local taxes over the first 16 years.  Those assume Amazon hits 25,000 employees by around 2030 and 37,850 employees by around 2034, and ultimately occupies 6 million square feet of owned and rented office space.  

That top projected employment total also draws down the maximum $750 million in state grants authorized by the Virginia General Assembly.

Projected Amazon-related local transportation spending. Source: Arlington County staff slides. Click for larger view.

You get a choice – you can read about the Arlington approval of its Amazon incentive package in the news outlet owned by billionaire Jeffrey Bezos, who founded Amazon, or the news outlet owned by the competing billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Here’s a snippet from the Washington Post:

“The opponents — led by left-wing groups and immigrants’ organizations — stepped up their catcalls and interruptions when Amazon executives began testifying directly to the board after the public hearing. They did not relent even when Dorsey warned that he might have them removed, and their shouting led the board, its staff and the Amazon representatives to leave the room for about 15 minutes shortly after 6 p.m.”  

The Amazon staff then did not return for the remainder of the meeting.

Many opposed giving any form of economic incentive to any company, but others were simply seeking to shake down the company and the county for money that directly benefited them. It was price, not principle, driving them.  Well-known Virginia union activist Virginia Diamond complained that Amazon has not agreed to a project labor agreement on any future construction projects.  Rent-seeking comes in all forms.

If the Antifa tactics and social justice rhetoric copied from New York were going to work anywhere in Virginia, the People’s Republic of Arlington would have been the place.  It fell flat, perhaps in part because even the left wing in New York has figured out 1) it really screwed up and 2) it handed Republicans evidence that many Democrats hate business and fear prosperity.  Here is Bloomberg on that point.

Plus Arlington taxpayers actually have no reason to complain.  If Virginia is going to offer tax rebates advertised as per-new-job incentives to draw in business, and Amazon is hardly the first but is merely the largest example to date, then this approach with its emphasis on transportation and higher education and post-performance incentives is reasonable.

It is, however, quite a precedent and sets a new standard for future deals.  The first question in every C Suite will be, what did the last deal receive?  How high did Virginia go last time?