Queens Students and NYCHA Residents Left in Amazon’s Dust

Administrators at LaGuardia Community College were only a month into discussing a training and jobs partnership with Amazon when the online retail giant decided to halt its plan to open a second campus in New York City.

Amazon had reached out to the City University of New York earlier this year to create a certificate program that would train students in cloud computing within LaGuardia’s continuing education division. The company decided on February 14 to cancel its move to Long Island City, Queens, near LaGuardia’s campus.

“Right after the announcement, they reached out to me reiterating their commitment to continuing our partnership,” said Francesca Fiore, associate dean of workforce development at Laguardia.

While LaGuardia is still in talks with Amazon to enroll 20 students in the pilot certificate program in the fall, the biggest loser may have been public housing residents. 

State officials indicated to NYCityLens that negotiators had considered expanding the certificate program at LaGuardia to public housing residents in northwest Queens. Based in Queensbridge Houses, the program would have been funded by Amazon’s community partnership commitments and open to residents in three other area complexes, according to officials in Albany who led negotiations with Amazon. 

Without Amazon’s revenues, the NYCHA program will no longer happen.

“Having Amazon here could have been a tremendous opportunity, but we’re hopeful these opportunities still exist. Amazon still has a presence in the city,” Fiore said.

Most of LaGuardia’s 57,000 students are recent immigrants or first-generation college students, and 70 percent come from families earning less than $30,000 a year.

“Amazon recognizes the diversity we can contribute to their workforce,” said Elizabeth Streich, a spokeswoman for LaGuardia a week after Amazon pulled out of the deal. “We do these employer partnerships every day, so we’ll just keep training the next generation of New Yorkers.” 

LaGuardia has an existing workforce training program with tech companies such as Google and Facebook. The partnership with Amazon would give LaGuardia students access to AWS Educate, a grant program where they can learn cloud service development and work toward certifications that can be leveraged in the job market.

Babita Gurung, a sophomore computer science major, had been excited about LaGuardia’s new neighbor because of the employment pipeline that would have opened for students. 

“I was upset when Amazon decided not to move to New York City because they were going to bring a lot of jobs over and hire LaGuardia graduates,” Gurung said.

Priyanka Magar, a computer science major who lives in Woodside, Queens, on the other hand,  also saw  the disadvantages of Amazon bringing in 25,000 workers to the area, even though she believed the deal would have meant more jobs. 

“They might transfer their old employees to the city,” said Magar, 25. “You know how trains are in Queens. It might add more problems than solutions.”

She also worried Amazon’s arrival might have meant she’d pay more for rent.   “Woodside isn’t too far from Long Island City,” Magar added.

Although Magar, who hails from Nepal, does not qualify for federal or state educational loans as an international student, she saw Amazon’s departure as a loss for her American classmates. In her view, students won’t lose out necessarily from Amazon’s withdrawal, but residents in the area will.  

“When it comes to jobs, we’re not losing out,” she said. Students “can still apply to Amazon.”  But she added that the state might have raised tax revenues from Amazon that could have been directed to education and public programs, so ultimately, students who live near by would lose out on that. “It would have mattered to a lot of residents who are students,” she said.