Lessons from Amazon: What Canadian Cities Need to Attract Major Headquarters
Insight Marc Andrew and Miro Cerentig discuss the important role infrastructure plays in attracting commerce to Canadian cities.
Amazon has announced it will open a second global headquarters, which is a big deal. At least 50,000 very well-paid people will work there, and it will create billions in investment. For some perspective, Amazon occupies 19% of all prime office space in Seattle.
Most commentary has suggested a range of American cities as potential hosts. But Canadian cities are also being mooted as potential bidders.
As Canada gets ready to spend billions of dollar to renew its infrastructure, Canadians cities need to ask themselves: where should they spend that public money to attract the next Amazon, or to build fast-growing companies of their own? The answers are clear.
All of the regular economic development factors are listed in what Amazon expects: a stable business environment, incentives and relocation grants, fee reductions, etc. These are standard expectations large companies expect to be offered.
Amazon says the winning centre must be close to a major population centre, and no more than 45 miles from an international airport. The site has to be within a mile of a major arterial road, and movement on all of the above must be efficient.
Public transportation needs to be expanded and modernized both to make a city more livable and connected, and also to link it to the region. Improving access to airports needs to be a priority, and those airports need to be efficient in moving people and goods. That means not just expansion, but also using new technologies to make airports more productive.
Equally important is investment in education. Amazon’s expectations make it clear. If a region doesn’t make the investments in education, and create the partnerships that connect it to the business community, it will fail in the innovation economy. This means not just universities, but also technical schools and colleges, which are vital to training the talent technology companies demand.
Then there is digital infrastructure. Cities should not build a road, a subway line, or a sewer system without thinking about where they can add fibre. The digital network, and its speed, is what will power the future economy. Canada does well on this, but it needs to extend its digital infrastructure, in both reach, connectivity, public access, and speed.
Finally, the RFP touches at length on other elements of placemaking. Bike lanes make an appearance, as does access to public transportation, walkability, and other urban amenities that attract talented people.
In sum, to build a city that attracts the companies of the future, Canadian cities need to double down on on infrastructure, people, and place.