Could Brooklyn Be Amazon’s New Second Home?

The borough's leaders wind up their pitch for a facility that could bring 50,000 jobs, 'the trophy deal of the decade'

(Illustration by Heather Jones)

“We’re going to bring it home, no matter what,” Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, promised at a news event this morning. No, he wasn’t talking about a sports championship, but a much bigger economic prize: the new second home of Amazon, worth an estimated 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital investment. When the online shopping giant announced its plans last week for a second headquarters outside Seattle, the company set off a scramble among cities to get their bids together by the deadline of Oct. 19. “This is the trophy deal of the decade as far as I can tell,” an economic-development expert told the New York Times.

New York’s bid will come from the city at large, but Brooklyn’s leadership is leaping into the fray with a lobbying effort kicked off by the chamber and Borough President Eric Adams. In an open letter to Amazon (full text below), they declared, “Brooklyn is the prime location for Amazon and its future; you might call this ‘Brooklyn Prime!’” That, in fact, will be the campaign slogan and social-media tag: #BrooklynPrime. At a previously scheduled speech by the borough president at Brooklyn Law School, sponsored by the chamber, Adams and Hoan seized the moment to tout their plan to round up a coalition of Brooklyn leaders from business, education and other institutions to put together a winning argument to snag what Amazon is calling HQ2. “Brooklyn is already a good product,” said Adams, “but anytime you build a team, you need to make sure you have all the players that are involved to get to the championship that we’re looking for.”

Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president, who touted the “Brooklyn Prime” pitch this morning at an event at Brooklyn Law School (Photo by Steve Koepp)

Amazon is looking for a second home because it’s outgrowing its current HQ in Seattle, where it occupies 33 buildings that house more than 40,000 employees (worldwide, it has 380,000 on the payroll). When the company made its unusual announcement last week, it released a Request for Proposal (RFP) that’s surely one of the most lucrative ever. The eight-page document spelled out the company’s preferences for the new site: a metro area with more than 1 million people, a diverse population, high quality of life, abundant technical talent, a strong university system, a business-friendly environment and access to mass transit, among other specs. In an analysis by the New York Times, that could apply to about four dozen cities in the U.S.–Canadian cities aren’t ruled out–from San Diego to Boston.

Brooklyn measures up in lots of ways: a population of 2.6 billion, vast ethnic diversity, an emerging tech industry, rich culture and a rejuvenated industrial infrastructure spanning the waterfront from Sunset Park to Williamsburg, which Brooklyn boosters have taken to calling the Innovation Coast. The borough’s leading tech schools–NYU Tandon School of Engineering and City Tech–have turned the Jay Street corridor into a tech hub. One of the most notable drawbacks for Brooklyn–and NYC as a whole–is the high cost of living. In the New York Times pre-game analysis, the winning city was Denver, alas.

Amazon’s campus in Seattle, which includes 33 buildings and a local workforce of 40,000 (Photo by Jordan Stead, courtesy of Amazon)

A big variable is how much the city will put up in incentives including land, tax credits, relocation grants and other sweeteners. The bidding could be fierce, as shown by the $3 billion in tax breaks Wisconsin gave away to win a Foxconn manufacturing facility, which proved to be controversial. Hoan points out that incentives offered by the city could help reduce Amazon’s overall costs. Moreover, he said, “Our competitive advantage is our people. We believe hiring local and using the Brooklyn workforce–who are the most loyal, hard-working and well-educated in the world–will save the company in the long run.”

Adams portrayed the prospect of 50,000 new jobs as a historic opportunity to address one of Brooklyn’s growing pains: its economic inequality. “The sad reality is that outside the geographical boundaries of many of our prosperous areas in the borough, we still have communities that are in despair. They feel as though the popularity of our brand has not transformed into prosperity for them,” he said. “Amazon can help us change that. We all need to be on board.”

One of the converted 767 jets that Amazon uses for hauling express freight (Photo courtesy of Amazon)

Amazon estimates in its RFP that the average annual total compensation of the employees at HQ2 will exceed $100,000 over the ten-to-15 year development of the new site. That’s about double Brooklyn’s median annual household income, which suggests that much of the equalizing effect of Amazon coming to Brooklyn would be through the ripple effect through the borough’s economy. “That’s 50,000 more vegan restaurants,” Adams quipped.

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At today’s event, the assembled leaders were asked whether Brooklyn should be careful what it wishes for, given Amazon’s reputation as a bruising place to work, with a kind of cultural Darwinism in the office. Adams acknowledged that the city would need to use its influence to encourage a worker-friendly environment. “We have to stop building people around businesses and start building businesses around people,” he said. “If we set a standard in Brooklyn about what we expect from our employers, it will benefit us all.”

Brooklyn, of course, won’t be the only part of New York City making a pitch. Other sites have their own advantages, including the massive new Hudson Yards complex rising on the west side of Manhattan. Queens is no slouch either, with some well-known airports and sports facilities. But Brooklyn won’t fail for lack of tooting its horn. “With all due respect to the other boroughs,” said Hoan, “We want to send a message to the city that Kings County is No. 1.”

The full text of Brooklyn’s open letter to Amazon:

Dear Amazon:

Ready, set, grow!

Since Robert Fulton steamed and Emily Roebling bridged, Brooklyn has been getting ready for you. We have no doubt that America’s fourth- (and soon-to-be third-) largest city is the best choice you can make for your second corporate headquarters.

And we’re all set! Some of America’s best universities are located in our burgeoning downtown, with more college students in Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle than in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And it doesn’t stop there; it extends from the Atlantic Ocean to Atlantic Avenue and everywhere in between. So, when it comes to intellectual property, Brooklyn owns it!

Our quality of life is second-to-none, with world-class arts and culture, five-star foodie experiences, healthy workplace initiatives, and incredible transit access to all of the natural beauty our region has to offer. Most important, we have the human capital any top-tier global business is looking for; with 90 spoken languages, Brooklyn is the living embodiment of the United Nations.

With several prime options along Brooklyn’s Innovation Coast already in construction, stretching from Sunset Park to Williamsburg, we can accommodate your immediate and long-term needs.

Now, all that’s left to do is put down roots and grow here in Brooklyn, a brand that speaks volumes from Paris to Pretoria. Our one-of-a-kind energy is what has been attracting innovators, freedom riders, and immigrants from every other place on Earth, what has more than 2.6 million people waking up here every day, what has young scholars selecting our schools, and what has the public and private sectors investing billions of dollars here. 

Brooklyn is the prime location for Amazon and its future; you might call this ‘Brooklyn Prime!’

Steve Koepp is the editor of The Bridge. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.