Tag Archives: Amazon

Bacon Bits: Hemp, Housing and Solar

NIMBYs against hemp. Farmers across Southside Virginia have turned to growing hemp (the THC-free version used in industrial applications) as a replacement crop for tobacco. But at least one Dinwiddie County neighborhood has risen in revolt. A hemp farm near the Lake Jordan neighborhood emits an offensive odor. The smell is so bad that it’s getting into peoples’ houses and permeating their clothing, reports the Progress-Index. “We’re worried that they’re going to continue planting around, which would basically mean [that] people will have to leave or just tolerate unbelievable skunk-like odors,” said Jarrod Reisweber, a director of the homeowners association. Daniel Lee, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors held out the hope that, if solutions could be found to control the odor of hog farms, a remedy could be found for hemp as well.

Amazon offers $20 million toward affordable housing. Amazon is offering $20 million to the Arlington County Affordable Housing Investment Fund in exchange for permission to build a bigger headquarters complex than county zoning allows. The sum would amount to the greatest single infusion of money into the fund, reports the Washington Post. Amazon wants to increase the size of its proposed 22-story office towers from 1.56 million square feet to about 2.15 million square feet, reduce the number of parking spaces, and increase penthouse height. If we assume an average of $50 per square foot for office space in Arlington, Amazon’s concessions are worth about $30 million. That’s gross value. Once construction costs are excluded, Amazon would net significantly less. By that comparison, the $20 million offer seems pretty generous.

Virginia Schools turn to solar. An increasing number of public and private schools in Virginia are utilizing solar power. The number of schools with solar has nearly tripled since 2014 — from 20 to 86, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A niche industry has evolved in which entrepreneurs package solar Public Purchase Agreements (PPAs) in which schools put no cash down and start generating positive cash flow from the first year. Pete Gretz with the Middlesex County school system says that ground-mounted solar saved just under $50,000 at its elementary school site. “There’s no drawback to this,” he said. “It’s completely a win-win.” Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Amazon Op-Ed

Stephen S. Fuller

For decades, Stephen S. Fuller has been regarded as a regional asset.

His study of the state’s economy as a professor at George Mason University has been praised as insightful, especially his idea that Virginia needs to diversify from its traditional reliance on federal government spending.

So, it seemed odd that Fuller, who plans to retire in the near future, would get mired in a minor controversy over the ethics of an opinion piece he wrote for a local business newspaper.

One couldn’t ask for a more loaded sense of circumstances. Retail giant Amazon, which is building its second headquarters near Reagan National Airport with a payroll of thousands of people, wanted Fuller to write and pitch a story extolling the virtues of the multi-billion dollar project.

Amazon’s public relations people wanted the article out before the Arlington Board of Supervisors was due to consider $23 million in incentives for the plan in March.

Fuller agreed and made one bad mistake. He showed a draft of the work to Amazon and asked for their comments. He got some, rejected them and then tried to pitch it to the Opinions Section of The Washington Post. Continue reading

How Moret and Moretti Won the Amazon Deal

Enrico Moretti

Everybody who pays attention to economic development in Virginia knows by now who Stephen Moret is. He is the Louisianan, recruited to turn around the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and rethink the state’s economic development strategy, who landed the Amazon HQ2 deal. Few are familiar, however, with the theoritician behind the practitioner, a man with a near-identical last name — Enrico Moretti.

Bacon’s Rebellion readers learned of Moretti, a Berkeley University professor, when I reviewed his book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” back in 2012. Moretti’s analysis of the primacy of labor markets in the Knowledge Economy — metropolitan areas with deeper, richer labor markets enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage in competing for both corporate investment and skilled/educated workers — has informed my economic-development commentary ever since.

Well, it turns out that Moret is a big fan of Moretti. Indeed, when fashioning a new economic development strategy for Virginia, Moret engaged Moretti for input. That insight emerges from an excellent article in the Washingtonian by Luke Mullins, “The Real Story of how Amazon Won Amazon’s HQ2.” Mullins’ article provides the most incisive reporting on how Virginia won HQ2 that I have yet seen. Continue reading

Amazon Campaign Contributions: $75,000 and Counting

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Speaking of alien overlords (see previous post)… I believe I’m correct in saying that Bacon’s Rebellion’s Steve Haner was the first pundit to note that if you like Amazon as a major player in Virginia’s economy, you’d better get accustomed to Amazon as a major player in Virginia politics. Now comes the Washington Business Journal noting that the Seattle-based technology giant and its political action committee have reported $75,000 in contributions to major political groups in Virginia.

Amazon has spread its money pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans. I have posted the Virginia Public Access Project summary above.

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.   Continue reading

Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

The road to the Silicon Swamp is paved with gold.

1-The Future. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The eight years since Andreessen’s essay was published have served to vindicate, validate and verify the accuracy of his thesis. Yet while software eats the world, it doesn’t necessarily dine in the same old restaurants.  Car making used to be centered in Detroit. Now Silicon Valley is the new Detroit. Not only are upstarts like Tesla centered in The Valley but traditional car manufacturers are heading west too. As Andreessen noted, traditional non-technology companies all need to become software companies in order to survive. Metropolitan areas with strong software skills will attract not only technology companies but non-technology companies as well. Embrace software or be eaten by it. The future belongs to those who code.

2-Ecosystem. Silicon Valley isn’t Bentonville, Arkansas. No one company dominates Silicon valley and therein lies its enduring strength. The Valley is an economic growth machine fueled by start-ups, spin-outs, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and oceans of venture capital. The idea that NoVa’s benefits from the Amazon deal start and stop with Amazon is myopic. Talented employees will come to National Landing, work for Amazon, and then leave to start new ventures. The 25,000 Amazon jobs should be seen as a starting point rather than a final outcome. In fact, startups founded by Amazon veterans like Fugue are already operating in the area. Continue reading

Amazon Local Incentives Not Worth A Revolution

Artist rendering of possible Crystal City to Reagan National Airport pedestrian bridge. Source: Crystal City Business Improvement District.  Click for larger view.

One of the self-styled revolutionaries seeking to prevent Amazon from planting its second headquarters in Arlington County complains the local incentive package offered is $23 million.  A research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University puts the total at $51 million.  The actual monetary value is elusive and still to be determined.

Both critics appear in a story from the politically-charged “news” outlet The Blaze, showing Amazon’s local incentives are national news.  So far, the much-larger state package, now approved by the 2019 General Assembly, has been the focus.  That was before a band of New Yorkers spit out their piece of Amazon Pie, inspiring Northern Virginians of similar ideological bent to step up a local battle.

UPDATE (2 p.m.):  The Arlington Board of Supervisors is set to vote on its agreement with Amazon on March 16, and here is the draft of the contract, just posted.  Continue reading

Killjoys versus GilJoy: Grievance Versus Opportunity

Gilbert Bland, CEO of the GilJoy Group and the Urban League of Hampton Roads, sees opportunities everywhere.

Northern Virginia progressives opposed to subsidies for Amazon are grievance-mongering nihilists who have nothing to offer but spittle and bile. Far from helping the people they purport to speak for, if they were successful in scuttling the Amazon deal — the Arlington County Board still must vote on county subsidies — they would cause only harm.

Instead of trying to kill the deal, progressive whiners and complainers could be working to capture a share of the  influx of public and private monies for the benefit of Arlington’s poor. An example they could emulate, but never will, is Gilbert T. Bland, chairman of the GilJoy Group and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, who, according to Virginia Business magazine, is leading initiatives to improve housing, education, health and workforce development for the region’s African-Americans.

But working within the establishment is not how progressives roll. Listen to Roshan Abraham with Our Revolution Arlington, as quoted by NBC News: Continue reading

Amazon as Un-Apple

Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

When Apple decided to build a new corporate headquarters, it designed a massive structure that resembled a flying saucer. The facility was an architectural marvel but it was entirely self contained, permitting no interaction with the surrounding community. It was impossible for employees to walk to work from home, and the campus was located far from public transit. For all practical purposes, the only commuting options were riding in cars, vans, and corporate buses.

Amazon might compete with Apple for the title of world’s most valuable company, but Amazon has a very different philosophy regarding real estate and facilities. Think of Amazon’s East Coast headquarters in Arlington and Alexandria as the un-Apple. Amazon does not regard itself as a company apart. To the contrary, the company wants to embed itself into the urban fabric. Here’s how the Washington Business Journal described Amazon’s thinking:

Amazon.com Inc.’s second home in the D.C. region will be a neighborhood — not a campus — of largely locally hired employees who eat at local restaurants and maybe bring their dogs to work, according to Holly Sullivan, who was among the leaders of the e-commerce giant’s HQ2 search.

Continue reading

Progressives Perpetuating Poverty

Danny Cendejas, an organizer with La ColectiVa, addresses concerns about HQ2. Photo credit: Washington Business Journal

Amazon’s decision to scrap a $2.5 billion investment in New York City has emboldened far-left progressives in Northern Virginia to oppose the e-commerce giant’s plans for plans to build an East Coast headquarters in Arlington. Critics of HQ2 are targeting $23 million that Arlington County will contribute to the pot of incentives, reports the Washington Business Journal.

“The county should vote down the deal,” said Roshan Abraham, an organizer with Our Revolution Arlington in an anti-Amazon meeting Monday. One of the richest companies in the world does not need the county’s money, he said. “If Amazon chooses not to come to Arlington over $23 million, good riddance.”

A primary concern among leftist activists is rising rent. As 25,000 highly paid Amazon employees start working in Arlington, they will bid up housing prices. About 3,000 apartment units in Alexandria and Arlington between South Glebe and West Glebe roads could become unaffordable for the largely Latino community living there once Amazon moves in, say Amazon foes.

I sympathize to some degree with those who resent the incentives, including some $500 million in workforce grants from the state. Amazon is the world’s most valuable company, CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest man (at least until his divorce is settled), and the showering of massive tax breaks on Amazon is manifestly unfair. But the world is unfair, and the rational response is not to chase Amazon out of town but to craft a deal that is tax-flow positive for state and local government, and work to ameliorate negative impacts on housing and transportation. To do otherwise is to limit opportunity and perpetuate poverty. Continue reading

The Exact Moment Virginia Changed Forever

For veteran observers of the Virginia General Assembly, a brief oral exchange between an Amazon executive and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday was a bright flash of insight into Virginia’s new political landscape.

You do not see people, especially not people seeking a major expenditure of state funds, get that cavalier with the chair in that committee.  The nervous laughter from the audience that followed, and then lingered for a few seconds, was exactly that:  Laughter from nervous people.

A very big player has arrived on the scene in Virginia.  Everybody else just moved back one or more steps in the pecking order.  Live with it.

Continue reading

Amazon, Incentives and Alternate Opportunity Cost

Source: Mercatus Center

George Mason University’s Mercatus Center does not like the deals struck by Virginia and New York to split Amazon, Inc.’s $5 billion HQ2 project. In a new commentary, the market-oriented research center raises a valid consideration rarely mentioned by politicians touting favored government expenditures of any type: alternate opportunity cost. Money spent on “A” is money not spent on “B.” Continue reading

Amazon Deal Could Create 59,000 Virginia Jobs

Amazon, Inc.’s $2.5 billion investment in major new East Coast headquarters in Arlington/Alexandria will generate $14.2 billion in economic activity over the next 12 years, projects a new study by Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics. While Amazon has committed to hiring 25,000 employees, indirect effects of the investment will create more than 59,000 jobs.

“The entire state of Virginia will benefit from Amazon’s decision to locate part of its second headquarters in Northern Virginia,” said Christine Chmura, the firm’s CEO and chief economist. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the story here. Continue reading

Amazon’s New Home in NoVa Will Bolster Private Sector

An Amazon home-delivery drone. Private-sector applications of unmanned systems would fit nicely with Virginia’s economic development priorities.

In the lead-up to Amazon, Inc.’s announcement that it would split its massive HQ2 expansion between Northern Virginia and New York, there was considerable speculation that Northern Virginia had an edge among the 20 finalist regions due to its proximity to the federal government. The company was aggressively vying for federal government business, most visibly in cloud services, and Amazon, like other federal contractors, needed a Washington location in order be close to the world’s biggest customer of IT services.

But Amazon’s decision to locate in Arlington practically next door to the Pentagon is not a federal government play, says Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Furthermore, Virginia is not shelling out an unprecedented $550 million in job-creation inducements by FY 2035 (plus up to $200 million more in later phases) to magnify Northern Virginia’s dependence upon federal government spending.

The Amazon expansion is driven mainly by private-sector initiatives, says Moret, and Virginia’s incentives package is “right in the bulls eye” of Virginia’s strategic goals of diversifying the economy away from the federal government and bolstering the region’s high-tech industry. “For us, this is principally a private-sector diversification opportunity,” he tells Bacon’s Rebellion. “In terms of the jobs we incentivize, no more than 10% can be associated with federal government contracts.”

That’s why the Amazon-Virginia Memorandum of Understanding requires “a certification as to whether more than 10% of the New Jobs at the Facility during the prior calendar year were primarily engaged in supporting Federal Government contracts, and, if so, the percentage of New Jobs so engaged.” If new jobs tied to federal work exceeds 10% in the new facility, they would not be eligible for state employment incentives.

The percentage of federal-related jobs was not a significant issue in negotiations between Amazon and Virginia, Moret says. VEDP included the language as a “safeguard” to advance Virginia’s diversification goal. “We just wanted to make sure that the opportunity we saw would be ensured by the incentive structure.”

Last June Amazon announced a decision to expand the presence of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Virginia with a new East Coast campus in Herndon. The deal was expected to create 1,500 new jobs in the cloud computing field. The press release from the Governor’s Office described the business this way: “AWS offers over 90 fully featured services for compute, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, developer, mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), security, hybrid, and enterprise applications, from 42 Availability Zones (AZs) across 16 geographic regions in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the UK. ”

While AWS was pitching cloud services to Uncle Sam, the list of add-on software applications clearly was aimed at an audience beyond the federal government.

Known primarily as an e-commerce giant and, more recently, as a provider of cloud services, Amazon is expanding into many exciting fields, Moret says. In vying for HQ2, an even bigger investment, VEDP scrutinized the public job postings for Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and found the company was recruiting talent for fields from health care to big data analytics.

Amazon Business, launched in 2012, provides an Amazon.com shopping experience for business supplies. Amazon is expanding its array of consumer electronics products beyond the Kindle e-readers and Echo smart speaker into smartphones TV set-top devices and credit-card readers. The company is pushing into digital streaming of music and games, and with its Whole Foods acquisition is experimenting with the home delivery of groceries. Amazon wants to rationalize the logistics of the health care industry, peddle event tickets online, sell educational toys on a subscription basis, and penetrate the home Internet-of-Things market. (See a list of Amazon products and services here.)

Moret expects new private-sector initiatives will take root in Northern Virginia, enlarging the region’s innovation ecosystem, generating new Amazon business lines, and creating new opportunities for non-Amazon entrepreneurs. Ideally, the new ventures will play to Virginia’s strengths in areas such as unmanned systems, cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence and cyber-security.

Says Moret: “We saw these as big growth opportunities for Virginia.”

Amazon Deal Highlights Virginia’s Competitive Advantage Over Maryland

Many Virginians have qualms about the $550 million in job-creation incentives plus more than $1 billion in promised transportation and higher-ed investments it took to recruit a $2.5 billion Amazon facility to Northern Virginia. But things could be worse. Maryland offered an $8.5 billion package — and didn’t land the deal. The Washington Post is asking if the Old Line State, which pitched a Montgomery County location, has lost its economic-development mojo.

For the record, Maryland officials are putting on a positive face. They are delighted that Montgomery County was one of Amazon’s 20 finalists, and they say that the facility’s location in Arlington/Alexandria will send positive economic ripples throughout the Washington region.

But Montgomery County — the Fairfax of Maryland — has studiously refashioned itself over the past few decades as a walkable urban community with access to abundant mass transit, just the kind of urban fabric Amazon was looking for. The county has access to the same high-tech labor pool as Arlington and Alexandria, which snagged the deal. And the state offered $6 to $7 billion more in inducements than Virginia.

Anirban Basu, chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, has been asking himself, “Why would Amazon turn away billions of dollars in subsidies to go across the river?”

Experts quoted by the WaPo pointed point to site-specific factors that favored Virginia. National Landing (the rebranded location in Crystal City and Potomac Yard that Amazon selected) is closer to downtown Washington, D.C., and so close to Reagan National Airport that Virginia has offered to build a walkway to link it to the Amazon office complex. National Landing has direct access to a Metro station, which the Commonwealth has offered to upgrade. And most of the property involved in Virginia’s bid is owned by a single developer, JBG Smith.

And who would believe this? Northern Virginia’s transportation infrastructure compares favorably to that of Maryland.

Northern Virginia’s transit and road networks also outpace the Maryland suburb’s. Virginia recently expanded its part of the Capital Beltway with tolled express lanes, and the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line, which will extend the subway to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County, is slated to open in 2020.

Finally, Basu cited Virginia’s “creative stroke of genius” in lining up $1.1 billion in higher-education support to build the computer-science talent pipeline. Virginia’s plan includes $250 million toward Virginia Tech building a $1 billion “Innovation Campus” near the future Amazon hub.

I would add another factor not mentioned in the WaPo article. Amazon has a history of working closely with Virginia officials and its largest utility, Dominion Energy, fostering development of Amazon’s cloud-services business in Northern Virginia. The company knows it can get things done in Virginia, whereas Maryland, where it has had little experience, is more of a cipher.

But Maryland’s competitiveness issue runs deeper. “One of the reasons Maryland created such a large incentive package for Amazon is because we know our business climate is not as competitive,” said Basu, whose Baltimore firm, the Sage Policy Group, conducted the state’s economic impact study of Amazon’s potential benefits but was not involved in the bid.

As the WaPo quotes regional economic analyst Stephen S. Fuller, 25 years ago economic activity in the Washington region was split equally among Northern Virginia, Washington and the Maryland suburbs. By last year, Northern Virginia’s share had grown to 48 percent, while the Maryland suburbs held about steady with 31 percent, and Washington had dropped to 21 percent.

Think about that. For all of Northern Virginia’s horrendous problems with traffic congestion, autocentric land uses, skilled labor shortages, lack of a top-tier research university, local-government unfunded pension liabilities, and some of the highest taxes in Virginia, it has been kicking Terrapin butt for two-and-a-half decades as measured by job creation. Writes the WaPo:

[Basu] has concluded that Amazon must have rejected the state’s “antiquated” regulations and higher taxes for corporations and top-earning residents. Amazon has said salaries at the new headquarters will average $150,000. Unlike in Virginia, Maryland jurisdictions impose a local income tax in addition to the state tax.

According to the Tax Foundation, Virginia is has a more favorable tax climate than Maryland almost across the board.

Personal income taxes
Virginia ranked 35th
Maryland ranked 45th

Corporate taxes
Virginia ranked 10th
Maryland ranked 22nd

Sales taxes
Virginia ranked 10th
Maryland ranked 18th

Property taxes
Virginia ranked 30th
Maryland ranked 42nd

Only in “unemployment insurance taxes” does Maryland compare favorably to Virginia, with a 28th ranking compared to Virginia’s 43rd.

Bottom line: Virginians get to keep more of their paychecks. When you’re  a company recruiting high-end business and technical talent, that counts for a lot.

Update: I have edited the original version of this story to distinguish between Virginia’s “incentives” paid directly to Amazon and state and local promises to invest in transportation and higher-ed.