Gov. Phil Murphy appeared (by telephone) on a number of business shows Friday morning, discussing all things Amazon and Newark in the wake of the e-commerce giant backing out of plans to create half of its second headquarters in New York City.
In this interview, on “Bloomberg Daybreak: Americas” with host David Westin, Murphy described:
- His pitch for Newark (“We don’t have any of those land-use issues”);
- His relationship with Amazon (“They already employ double-digit thousands of folks in New Jersey. They’re already a major corporate citizen in our state”);
- His take on incentives (“If the arrangement only benefits the company and it’s completely one sided, you’ll logically get pushback, and rightfully so”); and
- Why Newark residents and civic leaders wouldn’t push back against Amazon (“We’ve got the bones for a company to come in and employ folks and live there so not have to force people to the margins, which we will not ever do. I think it’s got to be balanced and I think Newark and New Jersey has put forward something to Amazon that was in balance”).
David Westin: Is there any hope they can reconsider (not looking for a second headquarters)?
Phil Murphy: I think it’s too early to tell, David, but Newark was a very serious contender — it was in the last 20 and many would say it was on the even shorter list. It’s a very compelling story that’s only gotten more so. Newark in particular is a city that’s got the bones. We don’t have any of those land-use issues that I think they had to deal with in Long Island City (Queens). And, more importantly, it’s got a great location, enormous talent pool.
We are a state of innovation in terms of our own economic DNA, so there’s lots of compelling reasons. Newark is led by a great mayor, Ras Baraka. So, we think we got a lot of the pieces to the puzzle, but we’ll see. I think it’s too early to tell. I can’t speak for Amazon certainly, but we think Newark is a very compelling spot for them and for others thinking about a similar decision.
DW: Did (New York City) go too far? Have we seen the high-water mark in making those concessions to companies?
PM: I will say this on New Jersey, we always want to make sure every deal we strike works for the companies and the residents. It works for our kids. And Amazon has presented itself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with this HQ2 notion. So, we felt we put a package together both at the state level and at the Newark city level. Not just for them, but for us, most importantly.
We still have that welcome mat out. The Newark story has only got more compelling, not less. I think it’s going to work for both sides. I think we had an arrangement with Amazon, a proposal with them that would do that. And I think, in many respects, we are the right choice for them. We have the highest concentration of scientists and engineers in the world. I think there’s a lot of data points that makes us compelling.
DW: How do you deal with taxpayer backlash at big companies coming to cities and the state offering them so much? What concessions do you make to your taxpayers?
PM: If the arrangement only benefits the company and its completely one sided, you’ll logically get pushback, and rightfully so. Land use, which isn’t as glamorous as incentives, was a big piece of the breakdown in New York. We have none of that in Newark, so we’ve got the bones for a company to come in and employ folks and live there so not have to force people to the margins, which we will not ever do. I think it’s got to be balanced and I think Newark and New Jersey has put forward something to Amazon that was in balance.
Local and state leadership were both supportive because we didn’t have those fractures, because it was a fair deal not just for them, but for Newark, too.
DW: Where did they go wrong? Would you have that support in Newark from local politicians, unlike (Gov. Andrew) Cuomo did for Long Island City?
PM: I can’t speak to Long Island City. I was with (New York City Mayor) Bill (de Blasio) a couple days ago talking about this very topic. We do not have that issue in Newark. Let me just say that emphatically.
Mayor Baraka has been extraordinarily supportive (of) his city council. The local interests in Newark have been very supportive of an arrangement with Amazon as long as it was fair. We have long ago presented something that was fair. And I would say the same thing on the state level. I know the level of support in Newark and New Jersey, and it’s high.
DW: Is Amazon returning your phone calls?
PM: We’ve got a good relationship with them. I don’t want to speak for them, and I want to make sure I’m not getting ahead of myself, but we’ve got a very good relationship with Amazon. They already employ double-digit thousands of folks in New Jersey. They’re already a major corporate citizen in our state. We’ve had good exchanges throughout this process.
Even respecting their decisions to go to Virginia and New York, we never stopped speaking. And that’ll continue to be the case. So, while it’s too early to tell, I just want to make sure the world knows that the Newark story is still extremely compelling for the likes of Amazon.
DW: Is there a Plan B for Newark?
PM: Newark’s got a lot of buzz around it. Even when we didn’t win in the first round of the Amazon hunt, it was still an extraordinarily positive experience, it sharpened the story. The investment is high, the location is extraordinary, the talent pool, the infrastructure in terms of transportation (is strong).