Amazon to shutter Kanata R&D outpost

Amazon box

Days after breaking ground on a massive new warehouse in Ottawa’s east end, Amazon is clearing out of its research and development post in the west just two years after moving in.

In an email to OBJ, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed the Seattle-based e-commerce giant will leave its Kanata offices this fall.

“After thorough review, we have decided to move roles from our Ottawa office to other offices in Canada and the U.S. to help teams operate even more efficiently and collaboratively,” read the statement.

Amazon opened its Ottawa R&D outpost two years ago and employed 30 people at its peak. Ottawa-based employees worked primarily on the Alexa voice platform, which powers Amazon’s Echo “smart” speaker that connects with home automation and web services. The company notes in a statement that it is relocating those roles or helping employees “pursuing other opportunities with Amazon or outside of the company.”

The news comes days after Amazon joined developer Broccolini in Ottawa to break ground on its new 1.02-million-square-foot distribution facility at an event well-attended by public officials. The firm has said it intends to hire 600 people to service the fulfillment centre.

Canadian hiring

Outside Ottawa, Amazon has been on a high-tech hiring spree in Canada this past year.

The company announced plans in April to hire an additional 3,000 people for its Vancouver R&D operations focused on machine learning and cloud computing technologies. And, a year ago, Amazon announced plans to add 200 high-tech jobs at its Toronto offices, bringing the total headcount there to 800.

Amazon’s decision to close its local operations is a dramatic departure from the optimistic tone that company officials struck when the firm first arrived with ambitious expansion plans.

Francois Boisvert, the head of Amazon’s local operations, told OBJ in 2016 that the “sky’s the limit” for hiring tech talent in the city.

He added that the company was attracted to Ottawa because of its history as a tech development hub and a perceived lack of competition for talent compared to other major centres.

“When we looked at the various cities, I think Ottawa became an obvious choice, because we know the talent that we needed is here in Ottawa,” he said.

Tech sector still strong: Invest Ottawa

Invest Ottawa president and CEO Mike Tremblay, whose economic development agency helped to bring the company to the city in the first place, said he doesn’t believe Amazon’s decision is a reflection on Ottawa’s talent pool.

“I see this as just a management consideration,” Tremblay says, writing the departure off to strategic priorities that shift year-to-year at large enterprises.

“That capability is still here. Those talent resources will be gobbled up really quick.”

He says Invest Ottawa is still working with Amazon: on the new distribution facility; on a growing field team that provides IT support for Amazon Web Services in Ottawa; and on other prospects as they pop up.

Tremblay says he’s not worried about any hit to Ottawa’s tech brand with Amazon’s departure. He believes the company’s short-lived presence in the city’s high-tech sector will be a boon for the city.

“We’re disappointed to see them change direction … but we should be proud that Ottawa talent has helped build out Echo and the Alexa products,” he says. “That capability is still here. Those talent resources will be gobbled up really quick.”