How much should Boston want Amazon’s new HQ?

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 9/27/2017, 10:20 a.m.

Those who stand to benefit directly include professionals from several fields in which Amazon says it wants to hire: executive/management, engineering — with an emphasis on software development engineers — legal, accounting and administrative. Many say they expect Amazon’s workers to come both from local and national or global job markets.

Why don’t we want Amazon?

Some fear Amazon’s arrival could exacerbate existing issues around housing and transit or that the benefits of a new major company would largely bypass working-class longtime local residents.

Jason Pramas, DigBoston executive editor, predicts in a recent piece about Amazon that permanent jobs likely will not be created for longtime working-class Bostonians, who may instead get subcontracting work, while steady jobs will instead target local college students with high-tech degrees, many of whom arrive from out of town.

Pramas anticipates as well that employees moving into the city to take high-income Amazon jobs will then snap up luxury housing units and drive up demand for them, in turn exacerbating the city’s housing issues. The result, he says, is Amazon’s headquarters would burden housing and transportation infrastructure, while any tax break or direct payment incentives offered to lure the company will deplete needed public money.

“After starving even more social programs to pay for this latest boondoggle, what are working families going to get back from the huge multinational?” Pramas writes.

According to Fox Business, home prices in Seattle, Amazon’s first — and currently only — headquarters, have risen 47 percent in the past decade. Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell told the Boston Globe that rising housing costs have spurred concerns that non-tech-industry workers are being pushed out of Seattle neighborhoods.

Balancing the right package

Sam Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau told the Banner that although he was not aware of the specific jobs Amazon seeks to fill, there is strong potential for many of the Amazon jobs to be filled in-city or in-state and for local higher education to adjust training to be more relevant to such jobs.

Northeastern’s Enrich, an expert on local government and tax policy, told the Banner that Amazon’s arrival could mean Boston and Massachusetts would retain more of the people who graduate from local colleges and universities and depart for global job markets. However, he noted that currently there is a lack of employees with skills that demand less formal education, such as in operating complicated machinery, and said an Amazon-type company could benefit from a steady at-hand supply of such workers. Here he saw opportunity, recommending that any city efforts to attract Amazon focus on wide-reaching improvements such as boosting training for such non-advanced-degree tech or production careers, as something that could entice Amazon or any future firm.

Noah Berger, executive director of Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, likewise advised that anytime the state makes a pitch for a company’s location with the intention of unlocking economic development, it should minimize tax break incentives and instead emphasize existing strengths or actions that can make lasting business ecosystem changes such as educational and transportation improvements.