Amazon has included Toronto on a short list of cities that are under consideration to host its second headquarters.
The Seattle-based technology company released the list of 20 bids that will advance to the next stage in its selection process on Thursday and Toronto is the only Canadian city to make the cut.
The list includes large cities such as Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington and Los Angeles and smaller centres like Columbus, OH and Raleigh, NC.
A total of 238 communities responded to Amazon’s request for proposals. The company says that it plans to make a final decision sometime in 2018.
“Amazon evaluated each of the proposals based on the criteria outlined in the RFP to create the list of 20 HQ2 candidates that will continue in the selection process,” the company said in a statement. “In the coming months, Amazon will work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership that can accommodate the company’s hiring plans as well as benefit its employees and the local community.”
Amazon has previously said that its second headquarters, dubbed “HQ2,” will be equal to its Seattle base of operations in scale and eventually lead to the creation of 50,000 high-paying jobs.
The company has indicated that it will invest $5 billion in establishing the campus and will require 500,000 square feet in building space by 2019 and up to eight million square feet in space by 2027.
In its 190-page bid submitted to Amazon in October, Toronto offered up 10 locations across the region that it said would be suitable for the company’s second headquarters, including a site in the Port Lands which could eventually be home to an estimated 10 million square feet in office space.
The bid also touted the region’s liberal values, which it said would be integral in helping to “attract and retain talent,” especially at a time “when humanistic values are being challenged around the world.”
“What makes us truly different in the North American context is our values,” the submission stated. “Ontario was the first province in Canada to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. We remain signatories to the Paris Climate agreement. We believe in—and enforce—gun control. Abortion is in no danger of being repealed, and birth control is accessible.”
Significant tax breaks absent from Toronto bid
Amazon’s initial requests for proposals stated that the availability of tax incentives to “offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors” in its decision, though Toronto did not include any such incentives in its proposal, instead offering up a commitment to increase the number of annual post-secondary graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by 25 per cent to 50,000.
Meanwhile, some cities did offer substantial tax breaks as part of their submission to Amazon.
Newark, New Jersey, which also made Amazon’s short list, said that the company would be eligible for $7 billion in credits against state and city taxes while California pledged up to $1 billlion in state tax breaks over a 10-year period.
On Thursday, Mayor John Tory was asked whether tax incentives could be added to Toronto’s bid now that it has made Amazon’s short list but he said that such a change in approach is “unlikely.”
“We have put a bid forward largely on the basis of quality of life, the ability that this region has to attract talent from around the world and to grow talent at home and I think in the end that is why we made the playoffs and what will carry us through,” he said. “I would be very surprised if we suddenly switched course now and said we found some pot of money that we frankly didn’t think was worthy of putting in in the first place.”
Tory said that now that Toronto has made the short list of cities being considered, the group behind its bid will now “regroup” and “map out” what their strategy will be going forward.
He said that he does not want to “make bets” on what the city’s chances are at ultimately landing Amazon’s second headquarters.
“We are Canada’s team now and I am just proud that our city region is going to represent the country,” he said. “I think this city and this country has a lot going for it in the terms of saying to Amazon that this is a great place to do business.”
Speaking with CP24 on Thursday afternoon, Ontario’s newly-minted Minister of Economic Development and Growth Steven Del Duca said that Toronto’s inclusion on Amazon’s short list is a “clear recognition” that investments in education are making a difference.
Those investments include the efforts to boost graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as a separate $30 million investment in boosting the number of artificial intelligence graduates.
“One of the things that I believe Amazon is looking for is where can we go that we can pick up world-leading talent and based on the investments we have made I believe that this is the place for them to be,” Del Duca said.
The Toronto region’s bid was prepared by Toronto Global, which is a government-funded agency tasked with attracting global investment to Toronto and the GTA.