Despite Amazon’s decision to pull out of the deal that would have put the tech behemoth’s HQ2 in Long Island City, Queens, local residents and leaders still see the neighborhood, and the borough at large, as a destination for tech companies.
And those leaders are doing what they can to make sure those companies come.
“Post-Amazon, we are very, very bullish,” said Thomas Grech, the CEO and president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
A little over a year before Amazon announced it would be moving to Queens, the borough had seen an 11 percent increase in tech jobs. Had Amazon arrived, that number would have increased by 25,000 jobs. However, in the wake of the pull-out, Queens is still open for business.
“We’ve had overtures from about 12 tech companies since Amazon,” Grech said. “All the reasons Amazon came in the first place, still exist.”
Those reasons include easy access to Manhattan, a high rate of commercial and residential development and a growing, diverse talent base.
“The beauty of Queens is that it is a borough that is increasingly attracting that talent in its residential areas, especially in western Queens along the East River waterfront,” said Seth Pinsky, the executive vice president of RXR Realty. “As the talent base grows in Queens, I feel confident that businesses will follow that and will grow their presence in the borough.”
Business owners in western Queens hope more technology companies set up shop in the neighborhood.
“It would be exciting if this neighborhood turned into a tech hub,” said Steve Kanellos, the owner of the Court Square Diner, a long-standing restaurant in the heart of Long Island City.
He said the neighborhood could use some consistency and a tech hub could provide that.
“This neighborhood is not a real neighborhood. You got people who are 25, 26 moving in,” Kanellos said. “And then they move back to Alabama.”
Those young folks make up the talent base Pinsky says makes Queens so attractive for tech companies and a tech hub in turn, Kanellos said, would give those young people a reason to stay put.
While several elected officials opposed the Amazon deal because of the tax breaks offered, the anti-union stance the company took and the overall scale of the deal, they support the idea that Queens is an attractive place for tech companies.
However, they encourage these companies to work with the neighborhood, something, they say, Amazon did not do.
“I welcome any tech company that wants to come,” said City Councilman Costa Constantinides. “But they’re going to have to work with us. Let’s make sure workers are taken care of and let’s do the right thing by the residents of Queens.”
Pinsky agrees, and said this type of cooperation is already on the way.
“I think that many of the technology businesses that are putting down roots in western Queens are not mega companies looking to do mega deals,” Pinsky said. “They’re small to mid-sized companies that are going into existing buildings and are looking to grow within the fabric of those existing communities.”
But for tech companies looking to Queens as a future home, the ripple of the sour Amazon deal may still cause a hurdle.
Residents, like Cristina Lopez Gonzalez of Astoria, believe tech companies of any type will always be unwelcome.
“Regardless of the size of these tech companies, there will be an increase in cost of living in Queens,” Lopez Gonzalez said. “So no, I don’t welcome tech companies coming to Queens.”