With a deadline of October 19 passed, Amazon accepted proposals from cities to be the home of their second headquarters in the United States. Philadelphia is in the running as they sent a committee of local officials to court Amazon executives in Seattle. On a television appearance on Bloomberg, Mayor Jim Kenney pitched why our city would be a great fit for the E-commerce giant and mentions affordability of real estate, concentration of universities, and a 10-year property tax abatement. The mayor even started a #PhillyDelivers campaign on Twitter. Amazon claimed it would create 50,000 jobs and invest $5 billion in new construction. Our city is one of many that are excited about this prospect. But, Philadelphia should not be the new home of Amazon.
Our city is the home of large corporate entities such as Comcast and Aramark, and they both have created jobs and new construction. They also have their issues. Comcast has taken advantage of the city’s tax abatements for new constructions. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, 26.2 million dollars in property taxes were kept by business owners and Comcast saved 1.5 million in tax revenue. This is important, as the property taxes fund Philadelphia schools. The recent sugar tax to fund Pre- K programs in the city has shown signs of failure and is not a long term solution. Tax abatements to lure new companies and wealthy developers to our city do not show signs of properly funding our schools. If Amazon chose Philadelphia for their new headquarters, this would repeat the cycle of loss of funds for our city.
Employment levels are another reason that many people are flocking to the idea of bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to Philadelphia. The global tech company’s new home is purported to bring 50,000 high paying jobs. Amazon, being a global company, does not need to hire Philadelphians, as they can find the best candidates globally to fill these highly competitive positions. Even local journalists acknowledge that Amazon will bring their own employees to fill positions as found in in an open letter to Amazon. Inga Saffron says, “Any home buyers you bring in from Seattle are going to have reverse sticker shock.” A local Philadelphian uses the city’s affordability to entice employees from Seattle instead of pushing for more local employment. Business Insider states that Amazon techs would earn an average of $99,000 a year. This is a lot more than local teachers and service industry workers make and would bring a larger wage gap between residents of Philadelphia. Ex- head of Amazon Services James Thomson states, “Amazon is not a fan of unions or regulations.” This would create issues with the many unions in Philadelphia. Unions across our city are in place to protect workers. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 has already held a strike while facing down a stalled contract negotiation with Comcast. Unite Here Local 274 representing service workers clashed with Aramark over work hours and wages. Amazon could face similar clashes with unions if they follow the leads of other corporate entities.
The locations of a possible second Amazon headquarters in Philadelphia are in the South Philly Naval Yard industrial center or the new growing Schuylkill Yards near University City. But, there is no residential area nearby, so many of the new employees will be commuting through our city’s neighborhoods. The housing market in Philadelphia is another point pitched to Amazon. Officials stress the affordability, but it is in comparison to tech-hub cities such as Seattle and San Francisco. Philadelphia’s housing prices are up 22 % in the last year, and this means that many people are looking to rent if they cannot afford to purchase a home. Local rent rates are being raised across the city as landlords use the demand for rental properties for larger profits. Amazon opening a headquarters in Philadelphia would create a larger spike in housing prices. According to Business Insider, Seattle’s median rent increased 3 times more than the national median, and it is due to the number of higher paid employees working for Amazon. The gentrification of neighborhoods in Philadelphia that would be the result of a tech boom will make it unaffordable for us to live in our own city. Despite the argument for a boost in the service industry from Amazon workers, the competition for housing would hurt the service workers already struggling with housing costs. As a future teacher, I want to serve the community where I live just like the police and firefighters. Living in our city would be unaffordable if I must compete with a person earning $100,000 and willing to pay three or four times more for a small apartment.
Amazon is still growing, and in Seattle it is taking up a lot of geography. The Seattle Times reports, Amazon owns 19% of all prime office space and employs 30,000 in the metro area. This is a lot to take on as it would lead to a jump in traffic volume and the need for parking space. Parking in downtown Philadelphia averages $20 to $40 a day, a price that could rise with a growing population of high-wage Amazon employees. The growth of Amazon could also change the identity of the city. How long would it take for local resident to be pushed out of their neighborhood due to high property taxes? The small business entrepreneurs and artists located in the Olde City and Northern Liberties neighborhoods would compete with tech companies for space, driving up leasing costs. This could adversely change the layout of the city of Philadelphia, which is something that should worry all residents.
The tough, blue-collar image of Philadelphia and this identity is an invaluable asset that exists in all Philadelphians. We all have a chip on a soldier being in the shadow of the larger metropolis New York City and the political center of Washington D.C., but we do not need a tech boom to come out of that shadow. Let our artists, our gritty exteriors, our multicultural neighborhoods lead our city. The educators, universities, and cultural centers can make its mark on the identity of our city. The food, history, and music creates our daily adventures in our city. If Amazon chooses Philadelphia, we could all lose this identity. We would become another tech hub. We have a San Francisco, and Seattle’s image is changing with Amazon. We do not want that to happen here.
We all want our city to grow, but at what cost? Philadelphia is not the best fit for Amazon. It needs to be in a direction that benefits the future of our city. If Amazon does come here, let them do it without the tax abatement. The added property taxes would help our schools and keep the future open to the children of Philadelphia. Add zoning regulations so Amazon does not over take the identity of our downtown area. When Philadelphia’s stubborn officials in the past had regulated the height of skyscrapers to be lower William Penn’s hat on top of City Hall., that same rigidness will keep Amazon from dissolving our city’s identity. To save our schools and our futures, you can express your concern in a tweet about Amazon or a make a statement on #PhillyDelivers on how Amazon will hurt this city. There are ways to contact the mayor such as James.Kenney@phila.gov . and at www.legis.state.pa.us to locate your local state representative and contact them on why Amazon would not be a great fit for Philadelphia.
By Ryan Laverty, Holy Family Student and resident of downtown Philly.