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I’ll admit that my first impression of Amazon’s HQ2 was very cynical. I was stuck with this image of Amazon’s current headquarters sprawling across Seattle like a cancer, inflating housing prices, pushing people out of their homes — and then, the most hackle-raising image of all, constructing a homeless shelter to shuttle those people away. In a sense, a corporate entity had become a vast, sovereign force that had the power to relocate people like chess pieces.

I asked the same series of questions that Max Grear '18 asks when he criticizes President Eisgruber’s hypocrisy in his letter encouraging Jeff Bezos '86 to choose New Jersey as HQ2’s new home. Amazon in New Jersey is a real possibility, and thus it would be a good idea to get a sense of the theoretical: What would happen if Amazon came here?

New Jersey has endorsed Newark above other cities as its offering to Amazon. Newark already houses Amazon’s Audible branch, which founder Donald Katz considers “one of the best decisions [the company has made].” Deterrences, such as crime or taxes, that might discourage Amazon from settling in Newark are effectively null. Crime-wise, Katz testifies that though some consider Newark to be “less than safe… not a single employee left [Audible]” since Audible moved to Newark. In the midst of New Jersey’s notoriously heavy taxation system, local government is willing to “[double] already generous corporate tax breaks,” says Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. Newark is only an 18-minute train ride away from New York City, and its market-rate apartment rents are equivalent to subsidized NYC housing. Amazon’s move to New Jersey could happen.

And what of Newark? This is a lab rat of a city, one that has been experimented on and tempted with the prospect of a new future, and then let down and abandoned. Amazon HQ2 comes after a $100 million dollar effort made by Mark Zuckerberg, former Mayor Cory Booker, and NJ Governor Chris Christie to turn the Newark school system from unequal to a model for the rest of the nation. The result? Money disappeared, people left. Zuckerberg went home to learn from his mistakes and work on his local schools, Booker went on to become U.S. Senator, Christie got sidetracked by a run for presidency, and Newark stayed the same.

The Newark school system debacle was one of many efforts to try to funnel new life into Newark, which, along with being populous, diverse, and full of history, now houses the headquarters of several large businesses like Broadridge Financial Solutions, Public Service Enterprise Group, Panasonic, and Prudential Financial. If we disregard for a moment its eventual scope and scale, Amazon HQ2 has precedent. It is only one of a series of businesses invited to make a home in Newark.

Is Newark ready for Amazon HQ2? The city brims with the life of its local universities, cultural venues, and businesses, yet a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has tried to coax the development boom into the south and west, where more of Newark’s impoverished live. The change has been imperfect and curious: A newly-opened Whole Foods stands in an area that was once a food desert, as if people who once had no food at all are now expected to patronize an over-priced supermarket.

But Baraka is trying. Recently he adopted policies to deflate the costs of housing and make sure that jobs go to Newark residents. Developers are required to set aside 20 percent of their newly built and renovated apartments for low- and moderate-income tenants; on a newly reconstructed street called Broad Street, 64 apartments are reserved for moderate-income households. Half of the construction crews and permanent jobs for construction projects must go to Newark residents.

Seattle residents’ main complaints against Amazon’s original HQ were that all the jobs Amazon purportedly brought to Seattle actually went to non-Seattle natives. Amazon’s story in Seattle was largely a run-after-itself-and-try-to-pick-up-the-pieces kind-of story: As Amazon benefitted from and sucked life out of the community around it, it hurried to give back in the form of homeless shelters, job training programs, STEM education, apprenticeship programs, and transportation. Perhaps the lessons Amazon has learned from Seattle, along with Baraka’s direction and outlook, would set HQ2 up to be a community-aware corporate body.

HQ2 is Amazon’s “second try” and it will not be perfect. I’d hope that Newark’s local government would work to integrate a large corporate body into its city in a way that does not hurt its native residents, but I accept the fact that the results will never be perfectly beneficial for everyone. I also accept that my research may be a simplified narrative, and I hope that readers will contact me with more multifaceted articles when they find them.

In response to Max Grear’s article, I appreciate that he calls us to educate ourselves and understand what the possibility of Amazon in New Jersey might mean. At the same time, I do not think it is necessarily fair to say that Eisgruber “sides by default with the political agenda of those who place corporate special interests over the public good.”

I thought the article was unnecessarily polarizing. I did not even think to place President Eisgruber on one side or the other — evil corporate giants versus meek Mom-and-Pop shops — because I did not even think Eisgruber’s letter was about HQ2. I believe the letter to be a gesture. It may refer to Amazon, but it is about Princeton. Cue the music: It is in praise of Old Nassau.

The letter Eisgruber wrote to Amazon refers to the Request for Proposal (RFP — a list of what Amazon is looking for in bidding cities), but not to make logistical, technical claims like actual cities would. Instead, President Eisgruber uses the RFP to say, “We, Princeton, have everything you are looking for.” You’re looking for excellent institutions of higher education? Princeton boasts the best faculty. You’re seeking intellectual and cultural resources? Princeton just opened a new arts complex. You seek strong technical talent? The greatest recent growth in student interest has been in what your RFP describes as the “most relevant” majors for your business. And of course, let us not miss the personal address to alumni CEO Jeff Bezos ’86 and CEO of Worldwide Consumer Jeff A. Wilke ’89, which reaffirms Princeton’s prestigious legacy.

Eisgruber’s letter very cleverly captures the attention Amazon is receiving right now and redirects it to reaffirm Princeton’s prestige. It’s detached, stately, and inward-looking. I do not believe Eisgruber means to give “a sort of wink and nod at the promise of lower taxes and techie-friendly neighborhoods,” as Grear writes, but I can see how the Princeton-centered nature of the letter can come off as blatantly and proudly indifferent to the negative effects of placing HQ2 in New Jersey.

Yet at the same time, would we rather Eisgruber not speak up and advocate for Amazon’s move to New Jersey? Is it not his job to create as many opportunities for University students as possible? Could he have written the letter in a more graceful manner? You tell me.

Allison Huang is from Princeton, NJ. She can be reached at

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