Amazon picks N.Y.: For N.J., not just silver lining — huge opportunity

James Barrood of the New Jersey Tech Council.

I won’t lie. I wanted Amazon to recognize the extraordinary vitality so many of us are seeing in Newark, and choose the city’s impressive bid for the HQ2 project. Still, we at the New Jersey Tech Council are delighted to welcome Amazon to New York City, part of the regional ecosystem we represent and nurture.

Here in New Jersey, we know we’re at the center of a thriving community of tech companies, universities, colleges and investors that stretches from New York City to Philadelphia, and treats state lines as minor speed bumps. We know that, when we make the appropriate investments and public policy decisions, we benefit powerfully here in New Jersey — but the benefits spill over to the entire region. And we know the reverse is true, as well. When New York City attracts 25,000 jobs — many of them high-paid and technical — we will reap benefits, too.

Amazon will increasingly recognize what its Audible division already knows: New Jersey is an outstanding source for innovative, highly-educated people who are comfortable with change and know how to drive profits.

Based on Amazon’s track record, we expect it to bring new energy and dynamism to our region, offer new opportunities to New Jersey tech companies with outstanding products and services, and strengthen our entire regional tech ecosystem.

We know we’ll see more great people coming to our region from all over the planet. We’ll see them building their software engineering, cybersecurity, fintech and supply chain expertise in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. They’ll meet with entrepreneurs at our thriving incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces. They’ll wander our Shore and state parks, explore our diverse and beautiful communities, and discover our irresistible quality of life.

Yes, we’d rather have had all (or half) of HQ2 here. But, for New Jersey, the silver linings are multiple and considerable.

First, we’ll still gain significant economic benefits even as we put our massive pot of incentives back in our pockets. We can redeploy some of that cash strategically to make ourselves more attractive to other companies — and to our citizens who already live here.

As part of those efforts, we can focus on greater diversification across information technology, biotech and other innovation hotspots, building an entrepreneurial community that’s more resilient and less dependent on a few huge employers. As we do that, the expertise and relationships that Newark (and New Jersey) built in developing their Amazon proposal will pay major dividends.

Second, we won’t face the brunt of the pressure New York City will quickly face in terms of infrastructure, congestion, housing challenges and rapid gentrification. We’ll get a piece of the growth, but we’ll be able to manage it in a more orderly fashion.

This isn’t to say we don’t have infrastructure challenges of our own. Heaven knows, we do — and meeting those challenges will be crucial to attracting great people from Amazon or anywhere else.

Now that Amazon has made its choices, we have work to do — on infrastructure, economic development, education and beyond. If we play our cards right, we can drive substantial value from Amazon’s decision to locate in Long Island City, Queens. We can make the New Jersey region an even more vital venue for innovation. We can position ourselves for sustainable economic, cultural and societal success — not just for a few years, but for decades. Let’s get to it!

James Barrood is CEO and president of the New Jersey Tech Council.