Mayor Nenshi says Calgary has 'serious advantages' in bid to host new Amazon headquarters

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Amazon, the popular online shopping powerhouse, needs to look no further than Calgary as the place to build its new headquarters.

New head office could mean $5B investment in Calgary and tens of thousands of jobs

Calgary's mayor says the city is in contention for Amazon's new headquarters, which could bring 50,000 jobs to Calgary. (CBC)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says Amazon, the popular online shopping powerhouse, needs look no further than Calgary for real estate to build its proposed new headquarters.

Dubbed "HQ2" by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the new facility would act as a second base of operations for the e-commerce company. Amazon has put out a call for North American cities to bid on the project, a call Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the city is ready to answer.

"I cannot imagine a better place than Calgary for this kind of investment, and I will be making that case strongly," Nenshi said, adding the city's highly-educated workforce and availability of affordable commerical real estate make Calgary a desirable candidate.

Nenshi said a non-disclosure agreement prohibits Calgary Economic Development from revealing details of the city's talks with Amazon. 

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the Calgary's highly-educated workforce and availability of real estate make the city a desirable candidate for Amazon's HQ2. (CBC)

But Nenshi did say that the city is "very familiar" with "this particular pitch."

Amazon says it will invest $5 billion US to develop the 8,000,000-square-foot headquarters.

Over the course of a decade, Amazon says, HQ2 will eventually employ as many as 50,000 workers with an average salary of $100,000 US.

Amazon's current home is in Seattle. Since opening its new headquarters there in 2016, Amazon says the company has added $38 billion US to the city's economy.

Contender criteria

Amazon released a list of criteria a city needs meet before being considered for HQ2.

The company is looking for: 

  • a metropolitan area with more than one million people.
  • urban or suburban locations with "the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent."
  • communities that "think big and creatively" with respect to real estate.

Because of office building vacancies downtown, Nenshi says Calgary meets all of the above criteria and offers Amazon both a suburban and urban option for the new hub.

Amazon, based in Seattle, is looking for a second headquarters in North America. (Reuters)

"There are opportunities to build on bare ground, there are opportunities to move into existing buildings … there are also suburban opportunities," Nenshi said.

"It would be very difficult to imagine any other city in North America able to compete the way we could."

Nenshi has made the case for Calgary as a home for U.S.-based businesses before.

Earlier this year, trade missions to Silicon Valley by Calgary Economic Development were successful in luring at least one California-based company to Calgary.

The announcement was made in April but Nenshi was unable to provide details on the company but said it's a big enough name that there would be a ribbon-cutting when it opens.

The mayors of Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax have all made their desire for HQ2 to land in their city known. But Nenshi said daily direct flights between Calgary and Amazon's homebase in Seattle puts Calgary above other HQ2 contenders.

"I expect a lot of people will be using that flight over the next several weeks," Nenshi said.

'It's really up to the city to sell the city'

On the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday, Calgary Economic Development's CEO Mary Moran expanded on the notion that Calgary is well-positioned to be highly competitive in the Amazon bid.

"We have a great labour pool," Moran said.

"We have an increasing and growing graduation base coming out of computer science. We have the highest STEM concentration of grads in the country, not to mention we have economical office space, a great quality of life, we have great transit, we have a great airport, we're an hour away [from Amazon headquarters in Seattle] — and our cost of living is so much less than it is in Seattle."

Amazon has many distribution centres around the world, in addition to its headquarters in Seattle. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

While other regions have lured Amazon through incentive deals, Moran said that tax incentives aren't a municipal issue, they're a provincial and federal responsibility.

"It's really up to the city to sell the city," she said. "And it's really up to the federal and provincial governments to come in and support. 

"They have to play neutral ground, but we have to do our job — and our job is competing against Canadian cities, too.

New HQ

4 years ago
Our guests make their pitch why their region should play host to Amazon's forthcoming second headquarters - a potential source of thousands of jobs 9:12

"Some of the evaluations are identifying Montreal, Toronto and Calgary as the top three Canadian cities that are likely to win this, and part of that is just talent availability. 

"What we as a city have to do," she said, " is work with the province and the federal government and say, we really want this, we need it — and our job is to do the rock-solid pitch. Be creative. Be breakthrough."

With files from Scott Dippel