Fortune: Why are local governments paying Amazon to destroy Main Street?

August 23, 2020 State and Local PolicyTech

The coronavirus pandemic has brought new scrutiny to the way in which Amazon treats its warehouse workers, whose exhausting, precarious positions now come with a decent chance they’ll be exposed to a deadly virus. And yet, Amazon is going gangbusters to expand its network, opening new facilities all across the country with the aid of compliant cities and states and little recognition of Amazon’s devastating impact on local economies.

In North Andover, Mass., for instance, Amazon recently received $27 million in public funding to build a new warehouse. In Windsor, Conn., it was $8.8 million. The property taxes for a new Amazon distribution center in Glenwillow, Ohio, will be reduced by nearly half for 15 years. And the e-commerce giant is receiving taxpayer dollars for distribution facilities in Whiteland, Ind., andArlington Heights, Ill., too. Overall, Amazon has received nearly $3 billion in subsidies from state and local governments. There are surely other handouts in the works.

Officials justify these monetary favors as necessary for bringing jobs and investment to a local area. But in truth, policymakers are funding the demise of Main Streets across America and furtherentrenching Amazon as a gatekeeper across wide swathes of the economy. Federal and state officials are looking anew at Amazon’s power, most prominently through Congress’ big tech hearing in late July and state-level antitrust investigations. Local officials need to pay attention to Amazon’s power, too.

Amazon’s distribution network promotes at least two significant interests for the company: accessing customers and using that access to force other sellers into coercive arrangements that promote Amazon’s other lines of business. As Good Jobs First has found, Amazon strategically places warehouses where there is a concentration of disposable income, Amazon Prime subscribers, and easy access to highways and airports. That makes sense, since Amazon’s aim is to get stuff to people who are likely to buy things from it faster, regardless of any sort of tax incentive or other regulatory favor.