Amazon HQ2: Calgary not on short list



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Politicians and the team behind Calgary’s Amazon pitch expressed disappointment the city didn’t make the shortlist of locations the e-commerce giant will consider for its second headquarters.

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But, despite a creative effort that garnered international attention, many said they weren’t expecting Calgary to make the 20-city shortlist released by Amazon early Thursday after the retailer received 238 proposals for HQ2 in October.

“It was a long shot,” said Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell. “It wasn’t a surprise … (but) it was a valuable exercise for Calgary to go through.”

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The recent economic recession has pummelled Calgary’s core, and amid a record-high downtown vacancy rate, some figured Calgary would be a perfect fit for an online retail titan on the hunt for a lot of office space.

Obviously, it would have been better to be on that shortlist but, that we’re not, it’s OK,” said Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, who like Farrell represents inner-city neighbourhoods where many office towers sit vacant.

“We’re working hard on a whole bunch of different headquarter attraction strategies. We’re talking to companies daily, we’re out hustling across North America,” Woolley said.

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Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating said he “wasn’t surprised” Calgary didn’t make the list of 20 cities now in intense competition for up to 50,000 new jobs. The only Canadian city to make the shortlist was Toronto.

Premier Rachel Notley said “it was disappointing news” that Calgary didn’t make the cut.

“There’s no question it’s unfortunate, it would have been great to have gotten that deal,” Notley said.

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“In the meantime, we’re certainly going to continue our work that is focused on diversification.”

Calgary Economic Development headed Calgary’s bid, which included an aggressive marketing campaign that featured sidewalk art in Seattle (with a tongue-in-cheek offer to change the city’s name to Calmazon or Amagary), a full-page advertisement in the Seattle Times, and a large banner on a downtown Seattle building that promised Calgary would “fight a bear” for Amazon.

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The New York Times declared Calgary’s approach might be “the most unusual offer” from any community vying for Amazon.

“We got tremendous media exposure across North America on this and that was part of our objective,” Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, said Thursday.

“We know Calgary is a great city and we do think (Amazon is) missing out, but the reality is that we knew the secondary opportunity was we’d have a public platform to tell Calgary’s story and I think we accomplished that.”

Moran said while she was obviously disappointed that Calgary’s bid wasn’t successful, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I think Calgarians need to feel positive and don’t think we were holding out our hope for this,” Moran said. “We’ve got lots of other opportunities, but it was our responsibility to go after it and we learned a lot.”

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After a debrief with an Amazon official on Thursday, Moran pinpointed Calgary’s failure to a small local talent pool when it comes to the jobs of the future. 

“(Amazon) really emphasized that they put a high weighting on talent … it was really about, ‘Do you have the entry-level and senior talent for a company like Amazon?’ and that’s where we probably fell short,” Moran said.

Building a workforce keen on new technologies will be a focus for Calgary Economic Development going forward, as the organization continues working to attract other players to Calgary.

“We have lots going on. This was not the only big file. We have other files we’re shortlisted for,” Moran said.

Rookie Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he was “disappointed but not surprised” that Amazon skipped over Calgary, and he laid the blame on a “perfect storm” of factors including tax increases and “anti-business policies” that he said have affected the city’s competitive edge.  

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“I think it’s frankly an embarrassment that Calgary didn’t get the top 20,” Farkas said.

“We need to have a more predictable business environment here in Calgary if we’re going to want to play in the big leagues.”

Here’s the list of cities still being considered by Amazon:

  • Toronto
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Austin, TX
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Miami, FL
  • Montgomery County, MD
  • Nashville, TN
  • Newark, NJ
  • New York City, NY
  • Northern Virginia, VA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Washington D.C.

— With files from Chris Varcoe and James Wood 

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