Toronto on Amazon’s shortlist for second headquarters

“U of T is a big part of our success story,” says Mayor Tory

The Toronto region has earned a spot on Amazon’s shortlist for a second headquarters, to be launched by the end of this year. The addition would bring $5 billion in investments and create as many as 50,000 jobs for its host city.

The 20-city shortlist, released January 18, named Toronto as the only non-American city in the running to host the tech giant’s newest project. The project, called Amazon HQ2, received proposals from 238 North American cities when the company called for submissions in September 2017.

Finalists are to be informed of next steps within the coming weeks. Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global — which worked in shaping Toronto’s HQ2 bid — indicated that the Toronto region is anxiously waiting to hear back from Amazon.

Lennox said that Toronto’s proposal to Amazon, made in October 2017, highlighted Toronto as a hub for high quality talent, stemming from its universities. The proposal was “an opportunity for us to hold up a mirror to ourselves,” he told The Varsity.

“We are now a really big, complicated, dynamic, and vibrant city. We’re a global player,” said Lennox. “It’s all the work that all the people have put in to Toronto to make it the region that it is now. And it’s great to see us for what we are.”

While Amazon provided no explicit rationale for selecting the top 20, Lennox and Toronto Mayor John Tory cited Canadian openness to immigration and the city’s innovative growth as major assets attracting corporate investment.

In a statement to The Varsity, Tory emphasized the significance of educational capital, which he said was incorporated as a key selling point of Toronto in the bid to Amazon.

“Our pitch to Amazon highlights the fact we are building a Future-Proofed Talent Pipeline, including a 25% boost in the number of STEM graduates in Ontario,” reads Tory’s statement. “U of T is a big part of our success story.”

Tory said that the university-affiliated Vector Institute “is helping build our reputation in technology and around the world.”

Lennox noted Amazon’s interest in working with universities engaged in research and development. The company hires university interns and full-time employees in the United States, and Lennox hopes that HQ2 would carry that pattern north.

There would still be drawbacks to HQ2 in Toronto, said Shauna Brail, Director of the Urban Studies Program at U of T and a Senior Associate at the Munk School’s Innovation Policy Lab.

Among those drawbacks would be Amazon shifting the job market away from the service and manufacturing industries with augmented automation. Brail also illuminated the consequences HQ2 could impose on Toronto’s already oversaturated and expensive housing market.

Even if the Toronto region is not Amazon’s ultimate choice, Tory, Lennox, and Brail all agree that this sort of investment interest reflects Toronto’s already flourishing tech sector and economy at large.

If Toronto doesn’t win, “it doesn’t change the city’s fundamental attractiveness to other companies,” said Lennox. “This is our opportunity. It’s like we’ve already won this thing. Let’s keep going at it. And if Amazon comes here, great. We’re still going to keep doing the same things.”

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