Amazon just told New York City to drop dead, which is a huge win for skeptics of its nearly $3 billion HQ2 deal with New York state. “We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time,” Amazon wrote in a release, saying the company will “proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville.” This could be an even bigger win for Crystal City, which rebranded as National Landing in its bid to help land its half of HQ2—it has 12 million square feet of office space and its vacancy rate in the third quarter of last year was 18.5 percent, so it could accommodate many as many Amazon employees as the company could divert to it.
And yet the number of jobs Amazon brings is secondary to the diversification it augurs for the Washington-area economy. You don’t have to go through a 35-day partial government shutdown to realize how dangerous it is that our economic fortunes are still so closely tied to the federal government. The Amazon deal could go a long way toward reorienting our economy, a hope represented in part by Virginia Tech’s planned Alexandria campus that’s also part of National Landing. (National Landing isn’t a physical place, it’s more a state of mind.)
Google now says it will double its Virginia workforce. Apple is said to be exploring a Northern Virginia presence. Federal regulation of some sort is likely coming to our huge tech companies, and it certainly won’t hurt them to have their employees be friends and neighbors in the region. But still, we need them more than they need us.
New York, on the other hand, will be fine without Amazon. So I can’t be the only person looking at today’s news with the wistful and practiced eye of a DC-area resident who tries not to think about how much better NYC always seems to have it: Wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to tell Amazon to go jump in a lake? It seems unlikely that Virginia has the bandwidth right now to renegotiate its deal, but Amazon has signaled some willingness to agree to some standards with regard to union construction. That may be as good as it gets, no matter how many more jobs (if any) the collapse of the Queen HQ2 deal means for Crystal City. Our goal for the future should be that we get to the point where we can ask for a lot more.