"We are a serious contender" for the new Amazon headquarters. (Graphic courtesy of Amazon.com)
Even if Toronto loses, it wins. As one of only 20 cities on the short list for Amazon's HQ2, and the lone Canadian entry that made the cut, Toronto has hit international headlines for the second time in months.
Its first appearance came late last year when Google's sister company, Sidewalk Labs, was chosen by Toronto to build a futuristic waterfront community, Quayside, "from the internet up."
Now comes Amazon.
Though we shouldn't hold our collective breath, the Amazon deal is big. Very, very, big. The headquarters itself would cost an estimated $5 billion (US) and create an impressive 50,000 jobs — everything from HR and security to management and research and development. The average salary will be in the $100,000 range. Little wonder Amazon received 238 bids from Canada, Mexico and the US.
Though other cities and states promised tax incentives and cold hard cash — New Jersey offered a whopping $5 billion — Toronto steered clear of writing a cheque and committed itself instead to increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates from 40,000 to 50,000 over 20 years. It has also pledged to enhance opportunities to study artificial intelligence.
"When I heard the news I was proud, pleased and excited," says former Canadian Football League Commissioner, Mark Cohon, and chair of the Toronto Global's Amazon HQ2 bid.
"This is a great opportunity for us to highlight what's going on here in Toronto. But I don't think anyone should be surprised by this. Just last year, Toronto added 23,000 tech jobs, more than New York and San Francisco combined. What Amazon really needs is talent. We made it clear that we grow talent here. We attract the best talent because of our education system and our open immigration policies."
Mark Cohon, the chair of Toronto Global's Amazon HQ2 bid, thinks Canada's public health care is a boon in Toronto's bid. (Photo courtesy of TorontoGlobal.ca)
Cohon also notes that the Canadian public health care system alone will save Amazon $600 million annually in operating costs. But as he makes clear, the bid goes well beyond the borders of the city.
"The new entity was set up by the three levels of government a year ago," he explains. "Rather than fighting against one another, we decided to work together."
Funded by federal and provincial governments, the proponents include regions of Halton, Peel and York as well as Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto.
Despite the optimism, many observers argue that if nothing else, the presidency of Donald Trump means Toronto is unlikely to win the competition. Were Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, to choose a Canadian location, it would provoke Trump's jingoistic tendencies, his fixation on building walls and his desire to "Make America Great Again." On the other hand, Bezos owns the Washington Post, which has been a willing thorn in Trump's side from the beginning of his presidency.
"Today we made the playoffs," Toronto mayor, John Tory, said Thursday. As the chief magistrate pointed out, the city's success was based primarily on its quality of life and celebrated liveability, not on financial handouts.
No surprise Richard (Creative Class) Florida is a member of Toronto Global's board. Florida, who heads the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, has argued that in an age of unprecedented mobility, the successful city's task is to attract and keep the brightest and the best.
"We are a serious contender," Cohon insists. "I got a note from Amazon today confirming that we had made the short list, but we don't know yet what happens next. Regardless, I think we have already won from this. It has raised Toronto's profile around the world."
Other cities in the running, all of them in the US, include Chicago, New York, Boston, Raleigh, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Houston, Nashville, Newark, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.