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Long Island City. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When Amazon announced its retreat from Queens amid a backlash from local activists, Long Island City seemed to have lost 25,000 new jobs and billions of dollars in investment.

Instead, two months later, the neighborhood is experiencing a boom: Other companies have grabbed much of the 1.5-million-square-foot, all-glass building that was to be the beachhead of Amazon's Queens expansion, and interest has surged in nearby commercial real estate.

  • "It’s an Amazon effect," says Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO of SquareFoot, a commercial real estate company. “A lot of people now get to piggyback on the work that they did.”

What's happening: In Long Island City, there is a before and an after Amazon.

Before Amazon announced that the Queens neighborhood was one of two surprise winners of its year-long contest to host HQ2, Long Island City was a somewhat sleepy afterthought on the outskirts of glamorous Manhattan — garnering some interest from businesses but not much.

Now, after Amazon's brief recognition made the area an "it" place, it is suddenly a sought-after location with its own, singular cachet.

  • Health care company Centene Corporation just signed a lease for 500,000 square feet in the Citi building that Amazon intended to occupy.
  • A second big tenant is in negotiations to pick up another chunk of the building, Nicole LaRusso of CBRE tells Axios.
  • In March, the month after Amazon left, SquareFoot got six times as many inquiries about Long Island City than the same month last year from other businesses looking to set up shop in the same area.

The spike seems directly linked to the e-commerce giant. Last year, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo — another up-and-coming mini-tech hub — was receiving the same interest on SquareFoot as Long Island City. But that interest hasn't turned into an outright boom.

  • "There aren't many boundaries to Manhattan that are still available and affordable," says Harry Chernoff, a New York developer. "Long Island City is very undeveloped still and relatively cheap. Smart businesses picked up on [Amazon's] interest in LIC."

The big picture: Tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google — magnets for top talent — have turned city after city into superstar tech hubs, beginning in Seattle and Silicon Valley and spreading to Austin and Boston.

But the Long Island City phenomenon suggests something more — that the big companies can anoint outlier neighborhoods, too, even if Big Tech itself does not stay.

And the incoming businesses get to take advantage of some of the same tax incentives that became a rallying cry during the push against Amazon:

  • REAP, New York’s incentive program for Long Island City, gives companies up to $3,000 per employee per year for moving to the area.
  • While no one incentive package will come close to Amazon’s $3 billion, neither will any single firm create 25,000 new jobs in one go, as Amazon promised. For example, Centene, which appears to be the biggest new get by Long Island City, is simply moving employees, not hiring more, reports Crains New York.

New York State senator Michael Gianaris, who was one of the most vocal opponents of Amazon in Queens, says the tax incentives will serve their purpose if they are given to smaller firms instead of tech giants. “We want to help small businesses get off the ground,” he tells Axios. “Amazon was just a national shakedown.”

For Long Island City residents, who've grown accustomed to cranes cutting across the skyline, the shakeup of the neighborhood comes as no surprise.

I spent a couple of days walking around some of Long Island City's most rapidly developing pockets. A slew of buildings and co-working spaces have sprouted up right next to specialty grocers.

  • And the construction of new office buildings is moving steadily inland, inching closer to Queensbridge Houses, the country’s biggest housing project.
  • “We are still concerned because these are companies in neighborhoods that are underdeveloped and lack investment from the government,” says Sabrina Jalal, a local activist. “We deserve to decide what happens in our homes, our neighborhoods and our communities.”

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Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.