Despite stiff competition, Watson willing to fight ‘tough battle’ for Amazon HQ2


Mayor Jim Watson will tour Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle as Ottawa readies its bid to become the home of the tech giant’s so-called HQ2 facility.

Watson will visit the 33-building complex along with Michael Wooff, consul and senior trade commissioner at the Consulate General of Canada, after visiting Los Angeles on a trade mission with Invest Ottawa.

“We had the L.A. trip in the works for some time, and when this opportunity came up I thought, ‘I’m so close, we can take a flight up to Seattle,‘” said Watson.  

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While the mayor has been bullish about the city’s chances publicly, he acknowledges that the city faces tough competition.

“I’m under no illusions. This is going to be a tough battle,” said Watson on Thursday. “At the end of the day, I think (Amazon is) going to be inundated with dozens, if not hundreds, of applications.”

Still, Watson called the city’s chances “realistic,” highlighting some of the advantages that Ottawa does have: the highly educated population and the proximity to the federal government.

Earlier this week, Watson said he had set up a “task force” to put together a bid for the mega-complex that would see 50,000 workers and roughly $5 billion in investment flow into Ottawa. Invest Ottawa told OBJ that it was eager and optimistic about the city’s chances to woo the e-commerce giant.

The city’s task force will have to bid without substantial incentives from the provincial government. Ed Clark, appointed by Premier Kathleen Wynne to head up the province’s bid for HQ2, told the Canadian Press Thursday that Ontario will not offer billions in taxpayer subsidies to lure the firm as that wouldn’t be fair to local companies starting up with little or no government assistance.

“There are clearly places in the United States that will, I use the word, bribe, people to come,” he said. “(They) say you just tell us what cheque you want us to write, we will write that cheque. We’re not in that business.”

Mark Sutcliffe, a local commentator as well as the CEO of OBJ’s parent company, Great River Media, argued in a LinkedIn post that Ottawa should not overindulge Amazon in its bid. He says decisions about location are made less on economic and lifestyle factors and more on which city is willing to pay for the opportunity.

“It’s a fool’s errand and the only people who benefit are the shareholders and executives of giant companies that hold the auctions. In the end, a lot of cities will end up feeling they wasted their time and money. Let’s not be one of them,” Sutcliffe writes.

Landing Amazon would be a substantial transformation for Ottawa, as it would mean a large influx of workers to the city.

“There would be a lot of work to get a location and real estate and start the upswing of getting more people into the school system,” said Watson.

Even if the chances are slim, though, Watson says the bid is worth it: Pitching to Amazon gives them a chance to highlight some of the strengths that may attract investment from the online retailing giant down the road.

With reporting by Metro News and the Canadian Press.

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