Pitch to lure Amazon to Winnipeg appeals to company's frugality

The team trying to lure Amazon to Winnipeg hopes the city's reputation for frugality will convince the company to come.

Proponents urge Amazon to 'think big, frugally, inventively,' focus on cheap land, hydro rates and taxes

Former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Obby Khan takes Alexa on a tour of Winnipeg, and says why Amazon's second headquarters should be located here. 3:03

The team trying to lure Amazon to Winnipeg hopes the city's reputation for frugality will convince the company to bring its new headquarters here.

The proposal, jointly authored by the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba, stresses how cheap it is to do business and live in the city. 

"[It's] the least expensive city to operate a tech company and a more affordable place for potential employees to call home," reads the proposal, which was made public Thursday.

In September, the online retail giant sent out a request for proposals for a home for its second headquarters in a North American city. The project is worth $5 billion US and stands to create more than 50,000 jobs with six-figure salaries.

Winnipeg's pitch points to low commercial and industrial land costs, low hydro rates and low corporate taxes. 

"Winnipeg was ranked the most cost-competitive city in the U.S. and Western Canada by KPMG in 2016," according to the document. 

Frugality appears to be important to Amazon — it is listed as one of its 14 leadership principles.

'I am very proud of what we put forward,' says Dayna Spiring, president of Economic Development Winnipeg. (CBC News)
"Do I think we have a shot? Yeah, I do think we have a shot," said Economic Development Winnipeg president Dayna Spiring, who worked on the proposal. "We have the amenities of a city with a million people."

Amazon's call for proposals said it is looking for a metropolitan hub with a population of at least one million. Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities are home to about 811,000 people, according to Statistics Canada.

The province is not committing any cash at this time but up to $980 million in tax credits and training support over 16 years may be considered if Winnipeg is short-listed. 

The city said it will consider tax-increment financing, which uses increases in property taxes generated from the redevelopment of a property to fund a project.

It also committed to help with land assembly, including the sale of surplus city land. It also said it will consider financial support for infrastructure. Most of these commitments would have to be approved by city council. 

"Our proposal stands on its merits," Premier Brian Pallister said in an emailed statement, which provided a rationale for why neither the province nor the city are throwing money into the proposal to try to outbid the competition. 

"We are confident in Winnipeg," said Bowman. "And we are optimistic Amazon will see what we see in Winnipeg."

The Bay could anchor a downtown campus

One of the proposed sites is a multi-building campus that includes the Bay's downtown building, Portage Place, the National Research Council building on Ellice Avenue and Parcel Four, a parking lot on Israel Asper Way near The Forks that was once considered for a waterpark development.

A 107-acre chunk of the University of Manitoba Smartpark is also offered up as a possible site.

Winnipeg's bid includes a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The PM does not back a specific city, opting instead to praise the nation's commitment to the environment, education and multiculturalism.  

"We have shown time and time again that a country can be stronger not in spite of its differences, but because of them. Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice," the prime minister's letter says.

The Winnipeg proposal was submitted on Wednesday​. Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary are also expected to enter the competition, as are many U.S. cities.

Thursday was the deadline for cities to submit their proposals for the new Amazon headquarters.

"Sometimes we don't toot our own horn enough. We have developed incredible things in this city," said Spiring.

She noted that the Ebola vaccine was discovered here and a Winnipegger invented the cellphone. (Martin Cooper, widely acknowledged as the cellphone's inventor, spent some of his childhood years in Winnipeg before going on to develop early cellphone technology with Motorola.)

"I am very proud of what we put forward."