Toronto will learn its Amazon HQ2 destiny very soon

Oct 19 2018, 11:02 pm

Sometime over the next few weeks, more than a year after a formal competition was launched, Amazon is expected to announce the location of the North American city that will be home to its second global headquarters (HQ2).

Nearly 240 bids were submitted by cities across the continent, and in January of this year, a short list of 20 cities being seriously considered was released by the company.

Toronto was, of course, one of the cities shortlisted, and it is the only Canadian city to make it to this round. Then in April, officials with the company were visiting the city as part of its evaluation process of the shortlisted cities.

There has not been much news about HQ2 since the buzz about the scouting earlier in the year, until today, when the Wall Street Journal reported that officials recently made repeat visits to New York City, Newark, Chicago, Miami, and Washington, DC. No mention has been made about making repeat visits to Toronto.

Earlier this month, during an interview with Bloomberg, Toronto mayor John Tory said Amazon officials “sort of call and make the odd inquiry that’s checking on a fact or something, but they haven’t been given a daily update as far as I know.”

Tory added that housing affordability, immigration, public transit, and even ‘hipness’ were all major discussion points about Toronto’s viability as the location of HQ2.

“They spent what some people would probably find a surprising amount of time on what we’ll call, the sort of arts and culture, the general kind of life in the city,” he added. “And this as a livable city.”

May the odds be ever in every city’s favour

Although some analysts initially ranked Toronto relatively high up the list as a likely location, with one list even ranking Canada’s largest city at No. 2, there seems to be a consensus amongst analysts that the odds now seem to be against the city.

Investor Place, for instance, says Toronto’s chances are not looking good as its bid did not provide any financial incentives. Some jurisdictions seem to want HQ2 more than anyone else: as a case in point, New Jersey, which is one of the shortlisted locations, approved $7 billion worth in tax breaks as part of its bid to the tech commerce giant.

Toronto also faces growing housing affordability issues, with the highest rents in Canada.

Instead, many analysts believe Washington, DC is the frontrunner.

Richard Florida, a renowned urban planning scholar and the Director of Cities at the University of Toronto, recently gave his own take on why he believes DC is the location.

“I think DC is the front-runner,” Florida told GeekWire. “I still don’t think it’s going to go to a suburb. I think it will go to a place like the Anacostia waterfront. It’ll go to a really interesting urban area served by transit.”

It is worth noting, though, that Geekwire’s top picks have been fluctuating between Toronto, DC, and possibly Pittsburgh.

Last month, Scott Galloway with New York University’s Stern School of Business chimed in as well on DC’s likely chance, for reasons that include the city being the home of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the proximity to the US national capital will “help Amazon stave off regulation.”

He even went as far as calling Amazon’s competition a “ruse” and a game that was “over before it started.”

But Bloomberg said Toronto is the one option that would provide Amazon with the ability to “hedge against increasingly restrictive US immigration policies.”

Toronto’s bid

Toronto Global, the public agency that promotes multiple Toronto area municipalities to international investors, submitted a 185-page bid book to Amazon in October 2017.

A total of 10 possible sites for HQ2 across the Greater Toronto Area were proposed, including the downtown Toronto Waterfront, downtown Mississauga, Markham Centre, and Vaughan Corporate Centre.

Amazon says it plans to invest about USD$5 billion into constructing eight million sq. ft. of office space to accommodate up to 50,000 new high-paying jobs. Such a headquarters complex, which would supplement the existing headquarters in Seattle, would be built in several phases spanning 15 years.

The bid centred on Toronto’s favourable attributes, such as Toronto’s massive talent pool, favourable business environment, low operating costs, high quality of life, and even low wages.

Cities are vying for HQ2 given the immense economic, social, and urban uplift such an investment would bring to their communities.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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