It’s been more than two weeks since Hamilton sent off its bid to become host of a potentially 50,000 – job second headquarters for Amazon but you can still hear the excitement in City Manager Chris Murray’s voice as he describes putting the bid package together. “It’s hard to imagine something like this—it’s breathtaking in scope.” He says the four week exercise involved 7-day weeks and tremendous stress, but in the end it “was an exhilarating experience.”
In the traditional world of bidding for factories, municipalities talk about low taxes, transportation amenities, and the like; but in attracting a high-tech company like Amazon says Murray, the real issue is proving you can deliver 50,000 workers with the right education in science and mathematics to perform the jobs which will carry an average salary of $100,000 US. Chris Murray thinks Southern Ontario has an advantage in that area. “The Ontario government has made a big commitment to ramp up education in science and math to the point that we will exceed the output of tech centres like Massachusetts. Between that and our more generous immigration policies, Canada has a real leg up to meet the demand for skilled workers,” he said.
Canada may appear to be at a disadvantage to American cities when it comes to tax breaks and bonusing prospective companies, since such practices are discouraged here; but Canada offers advantages that are as good as cash—the main one being health care. In their 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the average American employer-sponsored health insurance premium was $6,435 for single coverage and $18,142 for families. That could add up to billions of dollars over a 20 year span.
So once it is established that Southern Ontario has some advantages over the US the question then comes down to why Hamilton over, say Toronto? Again Murray says Hamilton is well positioned. “We have hundreds of acres of serviceable land near our airport, and we do not have the congestion that Toronto is experiencing,” he said. “And even getting to Pearson—sometimes it can be accessed quicker from Hamilton than from some parts of Toronto. Not to mention the much more favourable cost of housing here.”
In assembling the bid the Hamilton team accessed the most up to date economic statistics from the federal and provincial government, and even for seasoned economic development officials the results were surprising. “I thought I knew a lot about Hamilton,” said Murray, “but once I saw the federal and provincial numbers, it was amazing. For people who doubt us—we are well beyond the tipping point. We are in a middle of a major economic growth zone.”
The $500,000 bid involved pulling in experts like Price Waterhouse Cooper, Urban Strategies , Construction giant Ellis-Don and others along with the city staff team. A war room was set up on the top floor of City Hall. From his days as a private consultant Chris Murray has extensive experience in responding quickly to Requests for Proposals. “It was intense, stressful and a ton of fun,” said Murray.
Regardless of the outcome of the contest, the bid package that Hamilton produced will be repurposed over and over again in the city’s ongoing marketing efforts. It is expected a short list will be released early in the new year and a final decision will come by the end of 2018. Concludes Chris Murray, “ if (Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos decides to come into Canada, I’m pretty sure it will be Southern Ontario, and wherever the final destination ends up, the ripple effects will be felt here in Hamilton.”