Update: Ottawa-Gatineau misses Amazon HQ2, but officials pleased with bid effort

Amazon

If Blair Patacairk was feeling the sting of rejection on Thursday afternoon, he did his best to put on a brave face.

Reacting to the news that the National Capital Region failed to make the short list for Amazon’s multibillion-dollar second headquarters, Invest Ottawa’s managing director of investment and trade chose to see the glass as neither half full nor half empty.

“I’m a realist,” Patacairk told OBJ hours after Amazon announced Toronto was the only Canadian city among its 20 finalists to be the home of its HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs that come with it. “So when I was looking at this, I looked at it through a lens that this is a bit of a longshot, but we need to go for it.”

The mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau agreed, saying the joint bid received “positive feedback” from Amazon and will pay dividends down the road.

“Although we are disappointed with the news this morning that the Ottawa-Gatineau HQ2 proposal did not make the shortlist, we are proud of the way our two cities and the community came together to put forward a competitive bid that showcased the best that the National Capital Region has to offer,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and his Gatineau counterpart Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said in a joint news release.

The mayors said the intense six-week bidding process encouraged business and community leaders from both sides of the river to collaborate and put a spotlight on the strength of Ottawa’s economy and the “world-class talent” that will ultimately draw other companies to set up shop in the region.

“This strengthened regional collaboration is a legacy of our efforts; one that will help us grow our local economy and attract jobs together in the coming years,” they said.

Watson and Pedneaud-Jobin were gracious in defeat, congratulating Toronto for making the short list. They added “there would likely be significant economic spinoffs for the Ottawa-Gatineau region” if Canada’s largest city landed HQ2.

"We wanted attention. We wanted to win, but if we’re not going to win, we may as well get attention from other companies."

Invest Ottawa pegged the total cost of the Amazon bid at about $100,000, including staff time and in-kind services from the city and various other partners. But Patacairk said the region can’t put a price tag on the amount of positive media exposure its bid generated, helping to raise Ottawa’s profile around the world.

“That’s what we wanted out of this,” he said. “We wanted attention. We wanted to win, but if we’re not going to win, we may as well get attention from other companies.

“You don’t get a whale like this very often, but what it made us do is really get focused fast as a community and to make sure that we have all the right information. So there are a lot of really great things that have come out of it. I don’t regret doing it at all.”

HQ2 fever

Amazon’s request for proposals was steep, including space for a 500,000-sq-ft campus, proximity to an international airport and a population of at least one million – a requirement that meant Ottawa would need to team up with its neighbour across the river to qualify.

The potential reward was significant though: Amazon pegged its investment in HQ2 at $5 billion, and touted billions more in economic benefit for the successful applicant. In total, 238 cities applied for the chance to host the e-commerce giant.

Ottawa’s economic development officials leaned on the region’s liveability and burgeoning technology scene, replete with post-secondary institutions for talent and R&D, an impending LRT line and an affordable housing market.

Speaking to OBJ in September, Patacairk contrasted the capital to cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, where he suggested traffic congestion and real estate prices would deter Amazon from the allure of their sizeable tech sectors.

Watson and Penaud
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson (right) and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin hold the two cities' Amazon bid book up for media in October. Photo courtesy of Invest Ottawa.

When the joint Ottawa-Gatineau bid book was finally shipped to Seattle in October, the two mayors and Invest Ottawa were mum on what was inside. Shortly after, though, a website and video popped up pitching LeBreton Flats as a site worthy of Amazon’s mark. The video also highlighted the nearby nature of Gatineau Park and the cities’ cultural offerings as perks for incoming Amazonians.

On the other hand, some Ottawa observers will be celebrating today. The bid to attract Amazon HQ2 garnered criticism from some – broadcaster Mark Sutcliffe and Pythian CEO Paul Vallée, for example – who felt the e-commerce giant’s presence would hurt the city’s existing tech scene.

“It would break my heart to go through millions and millions of dollars of inducements and tax credits in order to attract a giant into the city that would end up breaking the backs of all of the entrepreneurs here, hundreds of them that are trying to establish themselves,” said Vallée at a recent Techopia roundtable.

Others believed the RFP process itself was flawed, and would only spur a “race to the bottom” of which city could offer the company the best tax breaks and other economic incentives.

Amazon says it will now work closely with each of the 20 finalists listed below to determine which city is the ideal host for its second headquarters, construction on which is slated to begin in 2019.

Amazon's 20 HQ2 finalists:

- Atlanta, GA

- Austin, TX

- Boston, MA

- Chicago, IL

- Columbus, OH

- Dallas, TX

- Denver, CO

- Indianapolis, IN

- Los Angeles, CA

- Miami, FL

- Montgomery County, MD

- Nashville, TN

- Newark, NJ

- New York City, NY

- Northern Virginia, VA

- Philadelphia, PA

- Pittsburgh, PA

- Raleigh, NC

- Toronto, ON

- Washington D.C.

With files from Craig Lord