|Are these really innovative?|
the new $90 million building would be eligible for a $1,235,800 per year tax abatement for three years. After that, the tax bill for the building will be about $1.2 million.Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!
In the excitement it is perhaps not easy for City Staff and other leaders to be critical about how this fits into the big picture for Salem.
At best, it seems like a deeply mixed bag.
|Yup, that's a warehouse|
|Car dependent site|
|Right now it's only hourly bus service|
So here we have a great concentration of lower-wage jobs (and by all accounts stressful and unpleasant) at a car-dependent site on the edge of the City, remote from anything else meaningful, all funded with significant government subsidy, both direct and indirect.
the talk last month? Or more interestingly, does anyone from the City who attended the talk have anything to say about the warehouse with explicit reference to the talk? Is its kind of analysis at all helpful? And are big warehouse picking centers on the edge of town really the best City policy for a sustainable and lively city?
The State, which sold the land, has an interest mainly in monetizing the surplus land in any way it can. It is self-interested and does not necessarily have the interests of Salem in mind.
But the City of Salem could think more critically about it. Is this kind of development and this kind of job creation really sustainable? How does this affect downtown? And not just in the near-term, but over the full lifecycle.
And what about increasing automation? 1000 is a great number for press and hype, but the robots are coming, and it seems more likely that human jobs at warehouse picking sites will diminish in number than that they will grow. If our tax and subsidy policy is in part to spur investment in local people and their jobs, are we exporting value rather than importing or creating it?
This new development, then, does not look like something unambiguously wonderful. Even in the most optimistic light, it seems deeply ambiguous and likely to erode other values - like creating more family-wage jobs, like investing in downtown, like shifting to lower-carbon land use and transportation.
Overall, for the city this may very well end more like a depleting development than a creative and prosperous one.
Hopefully economists will chime in later with more incisive analysis and be able to correct or expand on this. At the moment it's hard to be certain about any judgement - more questions here than answers. But it looks like we should be very skeptical about the hype.
Update, Wednesday the 30th
There's a follow-up in the paper today!
Also, on facebook there was a lot of criticism, and I will try to circle back and respond to some of it. Right off, the words "Avoid City Center" were misleading, because certainly it was not the claim here that a warehouse should instead go downtown. That is plainly silly as Tyson rightly points out below in a comment. The claim is instead that the total governmental subsidy, including infrastructure to service the area and the future maintenance obligation, as well as externalized costs like transportation burden on employees, will never be paid back by a facility at this site and with these wages. I'll try to return and clarify on this later in another post.
Not sure this will appear in the SJ, maybe only in the Stayton Mail, but an article points out that a good bit of housing will be to the east, in places like Turner, Aumsville, Stayton - though the access will still principally be by car, as the roads aren't bike-friendly from this direction, either:
"[T]he new development fits nicely with Turner's current development mode; in recent years the city has elevated its focus on developing business and residential areas. Add to that the Amazon development which could bring an estimated 1,000 jobs to the area, and the two weave together tidily.
The north end of Turner is currently undergoing a significant infrastructural layout with a new development surrounding a lake, dubbed Crawford Crossing. [City of Turner Business Coordinator DJ] Thommen said the updates will pave the way to the construction of 200 single-family homes and another 130 apartments, located just a few country miles from Amazon’s project....
“Considering the location of this new distribution center, we think this could increase demand for housing in our area,” Aumsville City Administrator Ron Harding said."