Toronto loses bid to host Amazon's second headquarters

Hopes dashed as e-commerce giant selects two U.S.
Images of Amazon's Seattle, Washington, campus, in both the downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods. (JORDAN STEAD / Amazon)

Amazon will be spreading its vast expansion plans over multiple North American locations, but confirmed on Tuesday that it would not be calling Canada home.

The retail behemoth announced its coveted second headquarters, popularly dubbed HQ2, will be divided between New York City and Arlington, Va.

The announcement puts an end to Toronto's hopes of hosting the massive expansion, which promised to bring 50,000 jobs to the region where the headquarters are built.

The joint bid from Toronto and surrounding municipalities was among dozens from Canadian cities eager to court Amazon, but the only one to make the company's shortlist of 20 final contenders.

The mayor of Markham, Ont., one of the municipalities involved in Toronto's pitch, said making that final round of competition represented a victory even if the ultimate prize proved elusive.

"Toronto Region being shortlisted for #AmazonHQ2 is an incredible achievement," Frank Scarpitti wrote on Twitter. "It shows the strength of our region and our diverse talent. Our reputation as an innovation hub is growing."

Toronto's bid, which billed the city and surrounding municipalities as a culturally diverse, safe and affordable hub for potential corporate growth, met many of the criteria Amazon laid out when announcing plans for a second headquarters.

The company had indicated it wanted to locate near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres in the next decade.

Newly re-elected mayor John Tory emerged as a strong supporter of the city's bid, touting Toronto as a "global centre of innovation and technology."

READ: John Tory’s elevator pitch to Amazon

"There is no other region in North America that can boast the same talent, the same quality of life, the same vibrancy and economic strength," Tory said in September. "We made that point to Amazon in our pitch and in person when they visited us here."

In the end, however, the company opted to spread its resources more widely.

READ: Did Trump just help Toronto score Amazon’s second headquarters?

HQ2's New York location will be in the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens, while its Arlington offices will be located in an area called National Landing. Each site will get 25,000 jobs.

In addition, the online retailer said it would open an operations hub in Nashville, creating a further 5,000 positions.

The decision ends an intense competition among 238 North American cities, many of which resorted to stunts to curry favour with the company.

Calgary's irreverent campaign, for instance, dispatched city spokespeople to Amazon's current headquarters in Seattle to erect a 36.5-metre by three-meter banner. The sign declared "we're not saying we'd fight a bear for you, but we totally would."

Other Canadian competitors, such as the Ontario cities of Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, mounted bids with sister cities in Michigan while talking up the potential advantages of cross-border flexibility.

Amazon made it clear, however, that financial incentives like tax breaks and grants would carry more weight. Toronto's bid did not contain any such measures.

Set within eyeshot of the U.S. capital, Arlington is a thicket of 1980s-era office towers trying to plug into new economic energy after thousands of federal jobs moved elsewhere.

Rapidly growing Long Island City, in the borough of Queens, is an old manufacturing area already being reinvented as a hub for 21st-century industry, creativity and urbane living.

In setting off the flurry of interest, Amazon said it could spend more than US$5 billion to build its second headquarters over the next 17 years. The two locations combined would be about the same size as the company's current home in Seattle, which houses 33 buildings, 23 restaurants and 40,000 employees.

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