Charity’s column: Amazon HQ2 on Shelter Island – A modest proposal

COURTESY ILLUSTRATION

One of America’s top companies is narrowing down the search for a location for its new headquarters — a choice that could bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of construction investment to some lucky place in North America. How about here?

Amazon, the company that generates 43 percent of U.S. online sales, is in the final stages of the search, and even though they would not consider it, and we would not allow it, I enjoy thinking about what would happen if they chose an Island with ferry-only access, 100 miles east of New York, as an East Coast bookend for their current Seattle digs.

It would be the largest company to locate on Shelter Island since the Lima Bean Farmers Cooperative began to grow and process frozen beans in 1951.

Come to think of it, that Lima Bean Cooperative didn’t end well. Bad weather caused crop failures, the picking, packing and flash-freezing jobs went away, and the local farmers who established the cooperative lost their money. So maybe we don’t mention that whole saga, especially since the problem was really just climate-related, and beyond the intervention of humans.

The competition to be Amazon’s new home has given the company an excuse to detail its hopes, dreams and values like a contestant on The Bachelor. The wish list for Amazon’s new headquarters includes population, (over one million should be enough) a well-educated populace, access to recreation, (a lot is good) and proximity to universities. This list closely reflects my own process when choosing a place to live, what kind of car to drive, or a mate; do a lot of research, and find something outdoorsy and smart.

Although the last census put the population within commuting distance of Shelter Island at under half a million, we all know those figures are suspect. Like the lima bean thing, we don’t need to get too specific. Besides, Amazon currently supplements its human workforce with 45,000 robots in its warehouses, and will undoubtedly be hiring some to work in HQ2.

If Amazon did come here, we’d have new words to learn. It is said there are no workers or bosses at Amazon, only associates, and those associates are never fired, they are released like undersize porgy. Like many American companies, they refer to their warehouses as fulfillment centers. This moniker is a little confusing to me, since I think of a fulfillment center as place where happiness is attained, and in this case it’s a place where happiness is temporarily stored, packaged and sent out for delivery.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview with Washington Business Journal that he likes to putter around in the morning, and he doesn’t have meetings before 10 a.m., a practice entirely in keeping with the pace of life on Shelter Island, where pretty much everyone is either taking their kids to school, working around the house (theirs or someone else’s) or engrossed in sweeping, mulching, and dump-visiting early in the day.

Amazon loves to brag about its scrappy, thrifty corporate culture as reflected in their celebration of the door desk, a staple of office furniture that, according to legend, Bezos invented when he visited Home Depot and realized he could save some money. He bought a door, attached some 4X4s, and christened it a door desk. It was by all accounts, very wobbly. On Shelter Island, we just call it a desk, and thanks to the skills of our populace, ours don’t usually wobble.

One of the suggestions in Amazon’s request for site proposals is a place that will think creatively about real estate. Finding imaginative solutions to housing problems is in our DNA, as our many citizens who have lived for extended periods on a boat moored in Dering Harbor can tell you.

Another carrot of opportunity that Amazon is dangling before the noses of civic leaders is a $15 an hour minimum wage, which sounds like a lot except the New York State minimum wage for Long Island is set to rise to $15 an hour by 2021.

It’s true that Shelter Island didn’t even make the short list for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, but that shouldn’t stop us from dreaming big. All it would take Jeff Bezos to fall in love with Shelter Island is a 15-minute ferry ride, and everyone knows that a person in love can do irrational things.

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