Metro, Column

A Parasitic Relationship: Boston’s Bid for Bezos Empire HQ

While I’ve only been a resident for about seven years—a newcomer for New England’s highly legacy-driven standards—Boston continues to impress me with every passing day. It flexes its academic, innovative, and creative muscles to tackle any and all problems, from public policy to urban planning innovation, all while recognizing the potential for translating its work to a scale that can be shared beyond the city. In my eyes, Bostonians have little to worry about in regards to the excellence and problem-solving ability of the city’s people and intelligentsia.

But there is one developing story that has put me on edge as of late: Boston’s determined campaign to be crowned the home of Amazon’s second North American headquarters. So far, every town and city, from middle-of-nowhere Connecticut to bustling metropolises like New York City, have stuck their necks out to sweeten their proposals. This includes promising hefty tax incentives and abandoned plots of land that are marketed as prime locations for Amazon’s operations. Here’s my first anxiety with all of this: Will it move be one step forward for the local job markets and two steps back for the culture of creative thinking? With such a towering behemoth moving into the city, the potential is that they might clumsily, albeit inadvertently, stomp out the fire that currently drives fledgling startups and projects.

In its defense, Amazon has certainly proved its worth in recent years by pushing the envelope in how it captures market power in a dizzying number of industries. Logistics, network services, groceries, it even tried its hand at the role of medical supplies provider. With all this ambition and the capital to back it up, Amazon can afford to engage in a game of predatory pricing because it can handle the expensive transport of goods themselves. While I really can’t complain when Amazon Prime delivers my extremely necessary wood-handle loofah back scratcher in two days, I do fear for what this might mean for the smaller companies hoping to enter markets alongside Amazon.

It’s possible my outsider perspective has blinded me to what’s actually going on inside the mind of budding entrepreneurs venturing out into the world. Perhaps there’s been a change of focus: Is it now a matter of nibbling on the market share scraps that remain in the shadow of the Bezos empire? One is challenged to turn a blind eye to the overt traces of monopolistic activity that Amazon sometimes engages in. I feel like the path of least resistance is either to plan for an Amazon buyout or target a market that has yet to be explored by Amazon—with a heavy emphasis on the yet part. With Boston positioning itself as one of the strongest cities for startup culture, the effects of this move might be significant.

This is all to say that I’m not convinced that Boston is the right fit for the second North American headquarters of Amazon. Bostonians are fueled by the products of their work and respond well to local initiatives. Equity and accessibility are sources of concern whenever new projects are introduced in the city of Boston. In this context, I think there is an unbalanced exchange going on in this campaign. It appears that Boston will be giving far more than it will be receiving, and Amazon might not be prepared to become the engaged community partner the city is looking for. The relationship is quasi-parasitic.

Whatever ultimately happens, Boston will adapt and find a solution to the new nature of business. At the same time, it’s important to realize that Amazon’s arrival will not just consist of dropping a shiny new building on a plot of land in disuse and expect that all will remain the same. People will factor into the equation, the constitution of communities will be disrupted, and the nature of collaboration might take on a different form. Perhaps I’m indulging in an anti-monopolistic stance and should just listen to the little morsel of sagacity that Ponyboy from The Outsiders offered me a while back: nothing gold can stay.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor

February 25, 2018

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