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Oshawa left out

Toronto-area bid for Amazon headquarters includes potential Durham locations in Pickering and Ajax

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The Toronto-area bid for Amazon’s new North American headquarters has been signed, sealed and delivered, but Durham Region’s most-populated city was notably absent from a list of potential sites.

The bid was one of a number from across Canada, including submissions from Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, and Calgary, looking to woo the U.S.-based online retail giant as a suitable location for its proposed $5 billion facility, which the company says will create 50,000 high-paying jobs.

However, when the 200-page document was released to the public last week, Oshawa was not included as a potential site.

Pickering’s proposed Seaton community and Ajax’s Carruthers Creek Business Park were chosen as the two viable locations within Durham Region.

Durham regional chair and CEO Roger Anderson says there were a limited number of choices the municipality could provide.

“We submitted two and both were accepted, so I was very happy,” Anderson told The Oshawa Express the day after the bid was submitted. “If we could have pushed more sites, we would have, but Amazon had very specific criteria and those two sites met that criteria.”

Other submitted sites include locations in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Vaughan, Milton, Oakville, and Burlington.

Toronto Global, an organization that receives federal, provincial and municipal funding with the mandate of attracting international businesses to the GTA, worked in conjunction with municipalities, including Durham Region, in preparing the bid.

Through the process, municipalities submitted potential sites, which were then independently peer-reviewed and strategically assessed by consulting firm Deloitte to determine which locations best fit Amazon’s stated preferences and decision drivers.

The sites for submission were selected based on the ability meet Amazon’s stated requirements of being able to provide 500,000 sq. ft. of office space within a dense, downtown urban environment, offer a wide range of amenities for employees, provide access to a mass transit system capable of moving employees across the region and a centralized proximity to Toronto’s major highways and roads that offer direct access to regional facilities such as Pearson International Airport.

In the bid, Toronto Global promoted the region’s “unparalleled” ability to “grow, attract and retain talent,” claiming a “massive, future-proofed pipeline of highly educated and diverse talent that Amazon requires to fulfill its strategic objectives.”

The bid also boasted factors such as more “affordable talent”, a corporate tax rate of 26.5 per cent, an average of 13 per cent less than most U.S. jurisdictions and universal health care could potentially save Amazon billions of dollars per year by choosing to locate its second headquarters in Canada.

Overall, Anderson says he was very pleased with the bid and the work to bring it together.

“It was a great collaborative effort amongst the regional chairs and mayors,” Anderson says, adding the bid lays some groundwork for future submissions.

“I think it was a great learning experience and now we have a document. Even if Amazon doesn’t like it, we can use it around the world.”

During an Oct. 19 media conference, Toronto Global CEO Toby Lennox revealed, unlike some competitors, the bid didn’t include financial concessions in hopes of attracting Amazon.

“Others may provide large tax breaks and subsidies, but like the Province of Ontario, we in the Toronto region don’t want to play that game. And frankly, we feel we don’t need to play that game,” Lennox said.

At a recent regional council meeting, Oshawa Councillor Amy McQuaid-England voiced some concerns about Toronto Global, which rose from the ashes of the defunct Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA), an organization with a similar mandate that Lennox described as having a “poor” track record of representing Durham Region.

However, Lennox stressed Toronto Global is an entirely new organization focused on learning from the mistakes the GTMA made.

However, McQuaid-England was undeterred in her criticism, stating she believes the organization is too focused on the province’s capital city.

She also was unhappy to hear Durham Region was contributing $220,000 a year to Toronto Global over the next three years, double what the region previously gave to the GTMA.

When asked his thoughts on Toronto Global so far, Anderson said as a fairly new organization, it’s too early to judge.

“I believe with the way they brought the whole 905/416 area together on this I think they are doing okay. Of course, we expect results, but I’m willing to give them a chance,” Anderson added. “They’ve been in business less than a year, and we’ve got new partners in the federal and provincial governments who gave substantial funding, which we didn’t have before.”

In all, there were 238 bids submitted for the Amazon project from 54 provinces, states, territories and districts across North America. The company has indicated it will make a final selection sometime in 2018.