Amazon HQ Favorites: Similar Basics, Different Vibes

The communities said to be favored to become homes to a pair of big, new East Coast bases for Amazon are both riverfront stretches of major metropolitan areas with ample transportation and space for workers.

But there are plenty of differences between New York’s Long Island City and Crystal City in northern Virginia.

 

Set within eyeshot of the nation’s capital, Crystal City is a thicket of 1980s-era office towers trying to plug into new economic energy after thousands of federal jobs moved elsewhere.

 

Rapidly growing Long Island City is an old manufacturing area already being reinvented as a hub for 21st-century industry, creativity and urbane living.

 

Seattle-based Amazon, which set out last year to situate one additional headquarters but now may reportedly open two, has declined to comment on its plans. But people familiar with the talks said this week that Long Island City and Crystal City have emerged as front runners for the “HQ2” project and its total of 50,000 jobs.

 

A look at two communities said to be at the top of Amazon’s list.

 

Long Island City

 

It’s already the fastest-developing neighborhood in the nation’s most populous city, and Amazon could pump up the volume in this buzzy part of Queens.

 

If chosen, the neighborhood stands to burnish New York City’s reputation as a tech capital. Landing Amazon would also cement Long Island City’s transformation from a faded manufacturing zone to a vibrant, of-the-moment enclave of waterfront skyscrapers, modernized warehouses and artsy-tech ambience across the East River from midtown Manhattan.

 

“I joke that we’re experiencing explosive growth 30 years in the making,” says Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, a neighborhood development group.

 

But Long Island City also has been straining to handle its growth.

 

Days before the potential Amazon news emerged, the city announced a $180 million plan to address Long Island City’s packed schools, street design and a sewage system that groans in heavy rain. But those projects will just catch up with current needs, says area City Councilman Jimmy van Bramer.

 

“I know that there are a lot of people cheerleading for this, but HQ2 has to work for Queens and the people of Queens. It can’t just be good for Amazon,” says van Bramer, a Democrat.

 

Once a bustling factory and freight-moving area, Long Island City saw many of its plants and warehouses closed as manufacturing shriveled in New York City.

 

The neighborhood’s rebirth began in the 1980s, when officials broached redeveloping a swath of the waterfront, while artists were drawn by warehouse spaces, affordable rents and a building that is now the MoMA PS1 museum. Silvercup Studios — where such TV shows as “Sex and the City,” “30 Rock” and “The Sopranos” have been filmed — opened in 1983.

 

Long Island City gained a new commercial stature, and the start of a high-rise skyline, when the banking giant now called Citi opened an office tower there in 1989. But the area’s growth lately has been driven by residential building.

 

Some 9,150 new apartments and homes have been built since 2010, more than in any other New York City neighborhood, according to the city Planning Department . Thousands more units are in the works.

 

New York has striven for nearly a decade to position itself as a tech hotspot.

 

Venture capitalists poured $5.8 billion into New York-area startups last quarter, more than any other region except the San Francisco area, according to the consulting and accounting firm PwC . Established tech giants, including Google and Facebook, have been expanding their New York footprints.

 

Still, landing HQ2 would represent “incredible validation of just how far New York has come,” says Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future think tank.

 

Waiting for a subway, Long Island City community board chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith could envision Amazon benefiting the neighborhood.

 

“But I think we have to be careful about it,” she said.

 

Crystal City

 

If any place in America can absorb 25,000 Amazon jobs without disruption, it may well be Crystal City, Virginia, where nearly that many jobs have vanished over the last 15 years.

 

The neighborhood in Arlington County is bounded by the Potomac River and the nation’s capital on one side, by the Pentagon on another and Reagan National Airport on a third.

 

Despite its prime location and abundant transportation options, the neighborhood has been hit by a massive outflow of jobs. The Patent and Trademark Office began moving more than 7,000 jobs out of Crystal City in 2003. In 2005, the Defense Department announced plans to move roughly 17,000 jobs elsewhere as part of a base realignment.

 

Arlington County has worked hard to bring in new employers, and had some success. The Public Broadcasting Service moved its headquarters to Crystal City in 2006.

 

Still, large swaths of the neighborhood remain vacant. Among other challenges, the area has fought to overcome a reputation for outdated architecture.

 

Crystal City is populated by 70s and80s-era office buildings. The buildings are connected by a network of tunnels populated with food-court style dining options, hair salons and newsstands. The tunnels leave the ground-level outdoor streetscape sometimes looking empty.

 

Brookings Institution urban planner Jenny Schuetz suggested the buildings may require an upgrade, or even replacement. But she noted that while people often associate tech companies with converted lofts or state-of-the art workspaces, many big Silicon Valley tech companies actually work out of `80s-era office buildings.

 

For all the talk about antiquated architecture, people who’ve actually worked in Crystal City appreciate its convenience and its worker-friendly features, including the tunnels.

 

“I loved it here,” said Christine Gentry of Greenbelt, Maryland, as she ate breakfast in a largely empty food court. She works for the Patent and Trademark Office and preferred the days when her office was in Crystal City.

 

“Everything is accessible here,” she said. “When it was raining or snowing or sleeting, I never had to go out.”

 

Perhaps no place better illustrates the vibe of Crystal City than the region’s only revolving restaurant, the Skydome atop the Doubletree Crystal City. Diners enjoy a panoramic view of the D.C. skyline, completing a full rotation every 47 minutes.

 

Sam Getachew, the hotel’s food and beverage manager, said the restaurant fits the neighborhood’s retro atmosphere.

 

“It’s huge draw,” Getchew said. “People come for the curiosity of it.”

The only downside, he said, is that “when customers get up to go to the restroom, they don’t know where they are when they come back.”

 

 

 

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UK PM May Stares into Brexit Abyss as Domestic Opposition Mounts

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy came under attack from all sides on Monday, increasing the risk that her plan for leaving the EU will be voted down by parliament and thrust the United Kingdom towards a potentially chaotic “no-deal” Brexit.

Less than five months before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, negotiators are still haggling over a backup plan for the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, if they fail to clinch a deal.

May’s compromise Brexit plan, which seeks to leave the EU but keep closer trade ties, is facing opposition from Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, the Northern Irish party that props up her government, and even some of her own ministers.

Asked if there was any chance May’s plan could pass parliament, former education minister Justine Greening, who supported staying in the European Union, said “no.”

“I think it’s the worst of all worlds,” Greening she told BBC radio. “It leaves us with less influence, less controls over the rules we have to follow.”

Sterling plunged to a 1-1/2 week low of $1.2841 as the dollar strengthened broadly and doubts grew over May’s ability to clinch a Brexit deal and get it passed.

Traders cited a report by the Independent newspaper that May had been forced to cancel an emergency cabinet meeting to approve a draft deal. A government source later said no cabinet meeting had ever been scheduled for Monday.

The Brexit deal — or the lack of one — will shape Britain’s prosperity for generations to come.

Economists polled by Reuters last week said there remains a one-in-four chance that London and Brussels will fail to reach a deal on the terms of departure.

Brexit ever?

Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy. The other 27 members of the EU combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

But May has struggled to untangle nearly 46 years of membership without damaging trade or upsetting the lawmakers who will ultimately decide the fate of any deal she can secure.

While May has for months faced fierce opposition from Brexit-supporting lawmakers, who say she has betrayed the referendum result by seeking such close ties with the EU, she is now facing increasing pressure from pro-Europeans too.

Jo Johnson, the younger brother of leading Brexiteer and former foreign minister Boris, resigned from May’s government last Friday, calling in a withering critique for another referendum to prevent her Brexit plans unleashing Britain’s biggest crisis since World War II.

If a deal is voted down by parliament, the United Kingdom will face an uncertain future: leaving abruptly without a deal, the collapse of May’s government, an election, or, as some opponents of Brexit hope, a new referendum.

Brexiteers say leaving without a deal might be damaging in the short term but that in the longer term it would be better than signing up to obey rules from the EU for decades to come.

It is unlikely that there will be a breakthrough in negotiations this month, with any deal probably pushed back into December, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Monday.

“We are waiting for new news from London… We have time, but not so much. For this month, it’s very difficult to make real progress, but before Christmas I’m hoping that it will be possible,” Reynders told reporters before a meeting of national ministers on Brexit in Brussels.

EU leaders had previously penciled in a summit for November to sign off on a deal with London as long as there was decisive progress. However, Brussels and London cannot agree how to guarantee there is no return of border controls on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

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Japan’s Abe Calls for Public Works Spending to Help Economy 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Monday for a new public works spending program to stimulate the economy amid growing concerns about global risks. 

The spending, which is expected in the first half of next fiscal year starting in April, will focus on strengthening infrastructure to withstand earthquakes and frequent flooding, according to a presentation made at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP). 

Some of Japan’s top government advisers also called for stimulus to offset a decline in consumption expected after an increase in the nationwide sales tax in October next year. 

The rush to approve public works spending and other measures to support consumption highlights growing concern among policymakers about the economy. 

“The prime minister asked me to take firm measures to ensure that our economic recovery continues,” Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at the end of the CEFP meeting. “He also said the public works spending program expected at the end of this year should be compiled with this point in mind.” 

Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and a recent slump in machinery orders suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum. 

Government ministers will compile a preliminary public works plan by the end of this month and then submit a final version of the plan by year’s end, according to documents used at the CEFP meeting. 

Urgent matter

Members of the CEFP did not say how large the spending program should be or how the government should fund the package. At the meeting, Abe said compiling the package has become an urgent matter, according to a government official. 

Japan’s government is considering a 10 trillion-yen ($87.77 billion) stimulus package to offset the impact of a sales tax hike next year, sources told Reuters last week, as concerns about consumer spending and the global economy grow. 

Increasing spending on public works started to gain support after a strong earthquake in September caused a blackout in the northern island of Hokkaido and a series of typhoons damaged transport infrastructure in western Japan. 

The advisers on the CEFP are academics and business leaders who are considered close to Abe, so their recommendations often influence policy decisions. 

The CEFP met earlier Monday to debate consumer prices and fiscal policy, which is where the advisers made their recommendations. 

The advisers did not lay out the specific steps the government should take to stimulate consumption, but government officials have previously said they are considering shopping vouchers for low-income earners and more spending on public works. 

The nationwide sales tax is scheduled to rise to 10 percent in October 2019 from 8 percent currently. The government already plans to exempt food and some daily goods from the tax hike to soften the blow, but there is still a lot of concern that the tax hike will wreck consumer spending and sentiment. The economy was tipped into a recession the last time the tax was raised in 2014. 

Advisers at the CEFP meeting also threw their support behind the government’s plan to encourage mobile phone carriers to lower smartphone fees, saying they hoped the move would increase households’ disposable incomes. 

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Oman Oil Minister: Majority of OPEC and its Allies Support Cut

A majority of OPEC and allied oil exporters support a cut in the global supply of crude, Oman Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi said on Sunday.

“Many of us share this view,” the minister said when asked about the need for a cut. Asked if it could amount to 500,000 or one million barrels per day, he replied: “I think it is unfair for me to throw numbers now.”

He was speaking in Abu Dhabi where an oil market monitoring committee was held on Sunday, attended by top exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia.

“We need a consensus,” he said, indicating that non-OPEC Russia would need to approve any decision. Oman is also not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Saudi Arabia is discussing a proposal to cut oil output by up to 1 million barrels per day by OPEC and its allies, two sources close to the discussions told Reuters on Sunday.

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SWIFT System to Disconnect Some Iranian Banks This Weekend

The Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service will be disconnecting some Iranian banks this weekend, said SWIFT chief executive Gottfried Leibbrandt at an event in Paris on Friday.

Earlier this week, SWIFT had already stated that it would be suspending some unspecified Iranian banks’ access to its messaging system in the interest of the stability and integrity of the global financial system.

In a brief statement issued earlier this week, SWIFT had made no mention of U.S. sanctions coming back into effect on some Iranian financial institutions on Monday, as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to force Iran to curtail its nuclear, missile and regional activities.

SWIFT’s statement on Nov. 5 said that suspending the Iranian banks access to the messaging system was a “regrettable” step but was “taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system.”

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India’s Royal Enfield Targets Tripling of US Sales This Year

India-based motorcycle brand Royal Enfield expects sales in its new North American business to almost triple this year and is aiming to dominate the market for middleweight bikes into which Harley-Davidson Inc has just shifted in a bid to revive sales.

Enfield, originally a classic UK brand but manufactured by India’s Eicher Motors Ltd in southern India since the early 1970s, has thwarted Harley’s efforts to make inroads in India, the world’s biggest two-wheeler market with some 17 million in sales annually.

Both companies are dwarfed in the lightweight categories by India’s Hero Motor Corp, Japan’s Honda and Bajaj Auto , and so far Enfield’s presence outside India in the more specialized market in medium-sized and large cruisers has been minimal.

Its arrival in North America three years ago signaled another headache for Harley, although sales of its iconic “Bullet” and “Classic” motorcycles have been stuck in the hundreds.

Based in Milwaukee, also the home town of Harley, Enfield sold between 700 and 800 motorcycles in the year ended March, and expects to sell nearly 2,000 in the current fiscal year, according to its North America president, Rod Copes.

“Our goal, over the next three to five and 10 years, is to be the largest middleweight motorcycle player, not just globally but also in North America. We want to get up to, where we are selling more than 10,000 to 15,000 motorcycles a year,” Copes told Reuters.

The bikemaker has been able to capitalize on demand by helping younger riders own a cruiser bike, along the lines of Harley’s but at a more affordable price point.

Enfield bikes come with a starting price tag of $4,000, which will rise to the $8,000 range following its new launches early next year. Harley’s entry level bike prices start at $6,899 and go up to $43,889.

“The U.S. motorcycle market is flipped upside down and the only segment that is growing is the middle-weight. I think we are beginning to see a little bit of a trend and a change in the industry itself, away from maybe the bigger, the better to smaller is funner,” Copes added.

Harley has been the historical market leader in the heavyweight motorcycle space in the United States and has been expanding into the middleweight motorcycle market with the launch of Street 500, Street 750 and the Street Rod range.

While Harley’s shipments have been dropping in the United States as its mainstay customer base is aging, it still managed to ship 144,893 motorcycles in the United States in fiscal 2017, according to its annual SEC filing.

The company does not break down those numbers into bike categories but analysts say almost all of those were heavyweight cruisers.

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Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways Expects to Get Aviation License Next Week

Vietnam’s new carrier Bamboo Airways expects to finally get an aviation license next week and start flying within weeks, the chairman of its parent firm said on Thursday.

The airline had to delay its maiden flight on Oct. 10 because it didn’t receive a license in time.

“Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has approved the proposal from the Ministry of Transport to issue the license to the airline,” Trinh Van Quyet, chairman of FLC Group, told Reuters by phone.

“We will launch our first flight within 45 days after receiving the license,” Quyet said. “Receiving the license would allow Bamboo to start services.”

Bamboo Airways would be Vietnam’s fifth airline after Vietnam Airlines, budget operator Jetstar Pacific Airlines, budget carrier Vietjet Aviation and Vietnam Air Services Co.

Bamboo Airways signed a provisional deal to buy 20 Boeing 787-9 wide-body jets worth $5.6 billion at list prices in July, as well as a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for up to 24 A320neo narrow-bodies in March.

Last week, Vietjet signed a $6.5 billion agreement to buy 50 Airbus A321neo jets, part of aggressive investment in the airline’s fleet, which has provided lucrative business for both European aerospace group Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing.

 

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Tesla Says Robyn Denholm of Telstra to be new Board Chair

Tesla said Thursday that its new board chair replacing Elon Musk will be Robyn Denholm of Australia’s Telstra.

 

The appointment to the full-time position takes effect immediately though Denholm will leave Telstra, Australia’s biggest telecoms company, after a six-month notice period. Denholm already is on Tesla’s board.

 

Musk agreed to vacate his post as board chairman as part of a settlement with U.S. regulators of a lawsuit alleging he duped investors with misleading statements about a proposed buyout of the company.

 

The settlement in late September with the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed Musk to remain CEO of Tesla but required him to relinquish his role as chairman for at least three years.

 

Apart from appointing a new chairman, Tesla was required to appoint two new independent members to its board. The aim is to provide stronger oversight to match Tesla’s growing stature and market value.

 

The charismatic, visionary Musk has strived to turn Tesla into a profitable, mass-market producer of environmentally-friendly electric cars. But his impulsive streak caused him trouble when he tweeted in August that he had “funding secured” for taking Tesla private.

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