In a stunning move, Amazon announced on Thursday a withdrawl from plans to build its HQ2 in Long Island City, New York. The decision came in the face of severe pushback from local politicians (despite the support of 70 percent of New Yorkers, according to Amazon itself).

As The New York Times reported, lawmakers and unions rejected what they considered improper use of government incentives to wealthy companies and over the gentrification of the Long Island City area.

Here's Amazon's official announcement:

"After much thought and deliberation, we've decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

"We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion--we love New York, 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.

"We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can't speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult.

"We do not intend to re-open the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.

"Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time."

Here's what could have avoided this

Finger-pointing took precedence over healthy debate. Amazon's announcement took a swing at "local and state" politicians. In response, State Senator Michael Gianaris told The New York Times, "Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves."

Wow.

It's an absolute shame due to the high stakes. The bait to attract Amazon was practically dripping off the hook: one of the largest tax incentives ever offered. The reward even more substantive: 40,000 jobs, eight million square feet of office space, and all the related development. 

I don't know every concern of local lawmakers. I can tell you from my days as an executive in the packaged goods industry that Amazon was an absolutely brutal negotiator, but I don't know what the company was like to deal with in this context.

Both sides lose here. A massive win-win quickly devolved. Why? Because healthy debate turned into "heal thyself" debate. 

The three principles of healthy debate went out the window. Remember these in your own, hopefully more level-headed, scenario:

1. Be mindful of an open mind.

Amazon's statement claimed its opposition "won't work with us." Perhaps there's some truth to the "take your ball and go home" accusation. The opposition has been equally closed-minded, however, publicly focusing on only the negative side of the project.

The principle here is simple. Let counterpoints raise interest, not hackles.

2. Commend, not condemn the opposing point of view.

Debate on the arrival of HQ2 soon went south very quickly after the move was announced in November. Governor Cuomo (a big supporter of the Amazon project) and Senator Gianaris exchanged nasty barbs about the state's economic growth right away.

Every point of view seems to have been publicly skewered on some level. That's not healthy.

3. Plus it up.

Criticism must always contain a new idea or suggestion for strengthening the original idea--a "plus." In the HQ2 project, both sides were in tear-down mode from the beginning. Neither ever publicly offered constructive criticism. Neither suggested a plus.

This outcome didn't have to be. Learn from this trainwreck so your next collaboration can succeed.

Published on: Feb 14, 2019
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