TORONTO – Toronto’s status as the lone Canadian contender in the race to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters could give the city a competitive advantage, one of the key players behind the bid said on Thursday.
Former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark, who helped spearhead Toronto’s proposal to host the multibillion-dollar headquarters, dubbed HQ2, said the city is the only one of the 20 remaining competitors who can draw upon the resources of an entire country in order to land the coveted prize.
“Frankly, it’s helpful that we’ve now got it down to one city,” Clark told The Canadian Press. “We ought to have a Team Canada approach here, and so I think you have to make sure that the city, the province and the federal government are working hand-in-hand together to say, ‘let’s have a win for Canada.'”
Amazon released its short list of candidate cities on Thursday, revealing that Toronto was the only Canadian city left in the running after it whittled the competition down from 238 to 20 bidders.
Clark, who has agreed to help guide the city and surrounding municipalities through the next phase of the selection process, said inclusion on the short list is a validation of the pitch that emphasized talent, diversity and quality of life in stead, not financial incentives.
Word that Amazon planned to open a second North American headquarters sparked a torrent of proposals from cities eager to land the $5-billion investment and lure the projected 50,000 jobs to go with it.
Bids poured in from Canadian cities from coast to coast as both major urban centres like Montreal and Halifax vied with smaller dark-horse competitors such as Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
In the end, however, only Toronto made the short list, where it stands alongside American metropolises such as Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Some Canadian mayors expressed disappointment that their cities did not make the cut, but at least one was prepared to rally behind Toronto in solidarity. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage announced he intended to display a banner in his city reading “Go Toronto.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory celebrated the city’s triumph at a news conference, in which he likened the inclusion on the short list to “making the playoffs” in a sports tournament.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity and to be able to tell Toronto’s unique story,” he said. “There is no other place in North America that can boast the same talent, the same quality of life, the same vibrancy, the same economic strength.”
Toronto Global, the group that compiled the city’s bid, said it will speak to Amazon in the coming days to find out what the next phase of the bidding process will look like.
Chairman Mark Cohon said they will take the time to lay out more arguments as to why it should call Canada home.
The initial bid focused on the features of the Toronto region and surrounding municipalities such as Guelph, Waterloo, Durham, Mississauga and York, he said. Subsequent conversations will map out ways in which higher orders of government could benefit the company.
“What we’ll obviously talk to them about is things that the government has created in terms of initiatives, so…talking to them about how we could work closely with the federal government on the immigration pipeline and helping them get in temporary workers,” Cohon said. “Those are all the type of things that really, I think, make our bid really compelling.”
Tory noted that Toronto attracted Amazon’s attention without resorting to tax breaks and other financial incentives offered by some of the U.S. competitors that also made the short list. The city of Boston’s bid includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees, while the city of Newark, N.J. proposed to give the company $2 billion in tax breaks.
Tory said the strength of Toronto’s bid lay in other factors.
“I’d be very surprised if we’re suddenly going to switch course now and say that we found some pot of money that we frankly didn’t think was worthy of putting in in the context of what really was going to make this the best place for Amazon to locate,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who said the depth of Ontario’s talent pool combined with government supports unique to Canada would make the province an ideal home for the new headquarters.
“No competing U.S. city comes even close to offering this level of talent, nor can they measure up in the ways we are supporting both workers and businesses, be it through universal public health care, a strong system of publicly funded education, expanding access to quality and affordable child care, or the magnitude of our commitment to public infrastructure,” Wynne said in a statement.
Amazon did not immediately share details of the next steps in the process, but said it would make its final decision later this year.
In the bid it submitted to Amazon last October, Toronto was quick to point out that it met all the criteria the company specified in its search for a second corporate home.
The company’s wish list included proximity to a metropolitan area with more than a million people; ability to attract top technical talent, a location 45 minutes from an international airport, direct access to mass transit, and the capacity to expand the headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres over the next decade.
Toronto also touted diversity as one of its strengths alongside its lower business costs relative to similarly sized American competitors, expanding infrastructure and low crime rates.
The city’s pitch also took what could be construed as a dig at U.S. President Donald Trump and his administrations anti-immigration policies.
“We build doors, not walls,” reads the cover letter from the group co-ordinating the bid from Toronto and several surrounding municipalities.
The effort to bring the new headquarters to Canada was spearheaded by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who penned a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the bids were flooding in.
The letter, which did not single out any particular city, positioned Canada as “progressive,” “confident,” and a natural home for “forward-thinking global leaders.”
Trudeau did not immediately offer comment on Toronto’s inclusion on the HQ2 short list.
At least one industry watcher said Toronto has cause to celebrate even if it ultimately does not land the coveted headquarters.
“I actually think Toronto has already won in some sense,” said Sean Mullin, executive director of the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Six months ago we were not being included in the conversation about what are the top five or top seven tech industry destinations in North America…Now Toronto is on that list, and I think it’s going to continue to be thought of from that perspective.”
— With files from the Associated Press