Best thing about Amazon news? We finished 3rd

Friday, November 23, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 47

We’re No. 3! Hey! We’re No. 3! As a boast, it lacks oomph. It does not indicate superior status. We’re not No. 1, is the clear message. We’re not even No. 2.

And yet that’s the position Nashville finds itself in with Amazon, having lost out to Long Island City, New York, and Crystal City, Virginia, as sites for the online retail behemoth’s new headquarters.

If this were a beauty pageant, Nashville would have been named Miss Congeniality.

How, you might ask, was Music City bested by a couple of places that sound like:

-- A potent concoction designed to get somebody drunk in a hurry

-- A segment on the Home Shopping Network?

Crystal City? I don’t know. It’s close to D.C., where Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chairman, owns a newspaper. In my brief one visit to Crystal City, it struck me as Brentwood on steroids.

As to Long Island City, I recently moved back to Nashville after spending 18 years a relative stone’s throw away. A few points:

Though technically part of New York City, it is not in “The City,” which is generally understood to mean Manhattan. It’s across the East River in Queens, which, while considered cooler than Staten Island, is not to be confused with Brooklyn in terms of hipster vibe.

In all the various local explorations done by my wife and me during our nearly two decades in New York, not once were we tempted to visit Long Island City. And we have gone to a museum dedicated to the history of the pencil.

Trip Advisor lists its top attraction as a state park from which one can gaze appreciatively across the river. At Manhattan. No. 5 is a Pepsi-Cola sign.

Here’s a description by a friend and former colleague who used to commute to Manhattan from points east and park his car in LIC:

“Long Island City used to be a grimy, low-rise neighborhood on the east bank of the East River with killer views of the United Nations and Midtown Manhattan, but a sooty, Superfund landscape of heavy industry and grim row houses. Then came a building boom. Forty-story luxury buildings sprouted like mushrooms on moldy carpet.”

The boom, he says, has attracted “tens of thousands of apparently well-compensated millennials who have turned a dreary slice of Queens into a glittery instant neighborhood fitting for – oh, I don’t know – young Amazon executives.”

I can tell you that those young (or old) Amazon executives-to-come will find that the promised $150,000 average wage won’t go nearly as far in Long Island City as it would in Nashville. Not only does New York State (unlike Tennessee) tax income, so does the city.

Dumping $3,500 a month for a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom takes a sizable bite out of any budget.

Winter in New York, for all its white Christmas possibilities, is frequently a pain in the butt.

And no one is ever going to run into Vince Gill or Carrie Underwood at Kroger. (There is no Kroger.)

In short, I suspect that, as it did for me, Nashville will look better and better for those Amazonians who find themselves landing in Long Island City.

In any event, Nashville itself can take a measure of pride in having triumphed over the Austins, Raleighs and Indianapolises of the world in the Amazon competition. And its consolation prize of up to 5,000 jobs (versus the top finishers’ 25,000 each) is not to be sneezed at.

The employees, doing various white collar and tech jobs, will work in an “Operations Center of Excellence” (How’s that for vague hyperbole?) to be built in the Nashville Yards development.

Of course, plopping 5,000 folks into downtown Nashville is sure to bring some logistical issues, not the least of which is traffic in a city that already has trouble handling the volume.

“One-third of workers are expected to walk or bike to work,” Mayor David Briley said at the announcement. Right. Perhaps the rest will arrive by drone.

Locals who plan to join the housing market as buyers will not envy competing with newcomers making three times the Nashville median family income. And many people are already questioning the $100 million-plus in incentives promised by the city and state to lure Amazon.

But I can think of something that would have been worse than finishing third:


Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.