I've been rereading the Amazon statement calling off the deal to build half of HQ2 in New York. And I think I've found an important clue about what happens next.   

It's not a plan really, not a hidden secret message. It's more of an expression of emotion. Maybe a realization of necessity.

In fact, while the text Amazon posted on its blog on February 14 runs 363 words, the most important part of this crucial passage is just four words long. But those four words speak volumes.

Think back to the announcement, which you can find on the official Amazon blog.

It starts with a dig at "state and local politicians" in New York, and a statement about how many New Yorkers supposedly supported the deal. Then, we get to the crucial part:

We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion--we love New York [emphasis added], its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture--and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. 

There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.

Those four crucial words? "We love New York."

They're not included by accident. In fact, I'll bet this statement probably went through more writing, editing, and rewriting than anything in Amazon's history.

But the passage is crucial. It's recognition that even in a post-HQ2 world, Amazon still depends big time on New York. That's why I think the company is at pains to reassure everyone that it isn't going to try to just reopen the HQ2 search and do this elsewhere.

The brutal truth is: New York City is special.

I know people don't like to admit this. I know that there are many trying to make political points, attacking union leaders and politicians who they say are to blame for Amazon's running away.

But there is no other place truly like New York City, and Amazon isn't really going to run -- not completely. It's not just chest-thumping; it comes down at least partly to sheer numbers. Here are three of them:

  • By far, New York is the largest city in America, with 8.6 million people--almost as big as the second, third, and fourth largest cities combined.
  • By far, it's the largest metropolitan area: more than 20 million people. If it were its own state, it would be about as big as Florida -- but much more densely packed.
  • By far, it has the largest GDP of any metro area, at $1.7 trillion. That's nearly 9 percent of the entire country.

Was it ever possible that Amazon would direct a personal insult at the largest and most important market in the country, by jilting it for say, Nashville? 

No offense to Nashville, the so-called runner-up. It's a really great city too, but numbers don't lie: It's tiny compared with New York.

Remember, they just proved it at Amazon, too.

After staging a 14-month beauty contest, playing off more than 200 cities against each other, and keeping the terms secret so that none of them could know what they needed to do to win, the result was almost comically predictable:

Amazon couldn't do better than New York and an area right outside Washington, D.C. 

You know what I think is going to happen now? Amazon is going to redistribute those 25,000 jobs around a lot of different places. (Remember, it was planning to create only 700 jobs this year, and wouldn't hit the full number until 2028 at the soonest.)

Now, New York will still get the largest share, only without having to give an average of $120,000 per job in tax breaks to get them.

And, it will make up the rest and still more--because Amazon just did the legwork for every other company in America.

Especially if the state and city can come up with anything even approaching a small percentage of the deal they were willing to give Amazon, and offer it to a wide array of smaller employers, I think things look pretty rosy.

No matter your size, and as long as you don't try to squeeze completely one-sided terms out of the deal, if you want to attract amazing workers and expand in one of the greatest cities in the world, Amazon just proved where you should go. 

Amazon loves New York. And a lot of other people do too. 

Published on: Feb 19, 2019
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