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Amazon HQ2, Eh!

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The case for Canada.

Amazon has made the unprecedented move to announce its intention to build a second headquarters in North America.  More than 100 cities are lining up for the chance to attract Amazon, and the potential 50,000 jobs and over $5 billion in investment that comes with it.  To be eligible, a city must have a population of more than one million, and be able to offer development sites within 30 miles of the city that are served by mass transit.

A key question that comes up is whether or not Amazon would locate outside of the United States.  Certainly, its growth needs are significant and a large proportion of its staff are technology workers.  As of September 19, 46% of the 16,719 jobs posted on Amazon’s global job board are in technology .  These jobs tend to be more challenging to fill and many technology firms recruit from a worldwide pool of candidates.  For this reason, Canada may offer a more appealing growth market due to a potentially more accommodating immigration regime at present.

As well, Canada offers many key benefits to employees in terms of quality of life and attitudes that may mirror Amazon’s corporate philosophy.  Furthermore, Amazon already has significant operations in Canada and is already familiar with the country from an operational perspective.

Canada can offer six cities that meet the minimum population count dictating candidacy for the HQ2 development.  These are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, in descending order of size.

Factors that may be of importance to long-term employee retention and satisfaction are related to quality of life and cost of living.  All the contender cities in Canada rank well above Seattle in terms of quality of life, with Vancouver holding down the top spot with a 5th place global ranking according to Mercer.  In the same survey, Seattle ranked 45th.  The Economist’s cost of living rankings show Toronto and Montreal to be less costly than Seattle, but that Vancouver is more costly, giving Amazon employees less bang for their buck.
Key factors for consideration


 All Canadian cities boast at least one significant research university and a strong high-tech environment, and all can accommodate the growth in jobs anticipated from Amazon, particularly since this growth will be metered out over time.

From a campus location perspective, each city can offer distinct alternatives, some with a number of different choices.  The question really is, “Will Amazon look past sovereign issues and tax breaks to find an alternative where they can grow long-term employees, taking into consideration the many less tangible benefits that a Canadian location can bring?” If Amazon is looking to a new location because it has outgrown Seattle, then Vancouver is an easy move north, with the same time zone and a quick flight or drive city to city.  If the desire is to find a different place where new ideas challenging conventional standards will germinate, then the other cities in Canada can offer an environment where such ideas may develop.

Sample of the potential locations for Amazon HQ2