Five things we learned from Vancouver’s Amazon HQ2 proposal

Vancouver will not be home to Amazon’s HQ2, but it’s not for lack of effort.

The Vancouver Economic Commission has released its bid to become “Amazon’s home away from home,” as the proposal states, and though the bid failed — Vancouver was not one of the 20 cities shortlisted for the online retailer’s second headquarters — it’s hard to blame the co-ordinating agency. They delivered a strong pitch.

It wasn’t without its quirks, however. Here are five things we learned from the proposal.

Low tech salaries, generally a negative, are a plus when you’re pitching a giant corporation

For a company that takes in billions in annual revenue, Amazon is notoriously stingy when it comes to taxes and worker salaries, so it should come as little surprise that Vancouver touted its cheap labour up front.

Page three of the 50-page proposal argues that Vancouver is the best value option. “Our talent competes with the best, yet we have the lowest wages of all North American tech hubs,” the proposal reads.

If you live in Vancouver, you’ve no doubt heard this before. But this might be the first time it’s been spun as a positive rather than a serious issue that needs to be addressed if we want our technology sector — which is driven by workers who want and can afford to live in the city — to remain competitive on the international stage.

Broadway Tech Centre isn’t as fun as it sounds

Vancouver’s Amazon HQ2 proposal suggests four locations for the new offices, and one of them is very familiar to those of us covering this story: Broadway Tech Centre, which is already home to Postmedia’s offices.

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Broadway Tech Centre is Site 3, described as a “Cultural Core.”

“If you want a hip and new-wave-trendy neighborhood at your doorstep, choose this site,” the proposal reads. But as it stands, the area feels mostly deserted, like a college campus on spring break, and last I checked, hip, trendy neighbourhoods had at least one bar.

Plus it’s little wonder that Amazon wasn’t immediately taken with the idea of sharing a campus with journalists sure to follow their movements closely. It’s probably fair. Had they accepted this bid, we would have greeted the company with an article about how little they planned to pay their workers for sure.


Vancouver is a lot like Seattle but hey, you like Seattle, right?

Considering one of the major knocks against Vancouver’s chances is its proximity to Seattle, it’s not surprising that the proposal tries to spin this as a positive. But the effort seems a little much, especially as one imagines Amazon is looking for something different in its second headquarters.

“Seattle and Vancouver are like fraternal twins separated at birth,” the proposal reads.

And then there’s this line, which is enough to make most Vancouverites shudder: “With the largest population of U.S. citizens living outside of the U.S., Vancouver is also the most American of the Canadian cities.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone brag about how American Vancouver is before. Maybe this is intriguing to Amazon, but it’s downright frightening to most locals.

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We basically fixed the housing affordability crisis already

If Amazon had decided to come here, where would its workers live? Not downtown, that’s for sure — especially if they were being paid those super-low wages mentioned early in the proposal. Housing in the city costs an arm and a leg, and as the bid argued, tech work here pays an arm at best.

The bid also suggested that this problem was close to being solved, which doesn’t really appear to be the case.

“Measures are in place to tackle housing affordability concerns,” the proposal reads. It also suggests affordable homes are “within reach.”

Undercutting that, of course, are the facts, as well as this fact box: “Despite the high prices in the downtown core, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of affordable housing options all within a 25-minute radius of our top sites for Amazon HQ2.”

In other words, staff will definitely be commuting from Burnaby and New Westminster.

Instead of tax incentives, we offer our love

Of course, despite its many selling points, Vancouver’s bid failed to offer one of the big things Amazon is looking for here: tax incentives. But that too is spun like a positive.

Under a heading that reads, “We view this as a relationship,” the proposal explains that Vancouver expects Amazon to be as good for us as we would be for them.

“Vancouver has never provided one-off tax incentives for corporations — and that’s a good thing,” it reads. “Instead, our approach focuses on building strong relationships and providing long-term incentives that benefit the whole community and our corporate residents.”

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Good job, good effort, Vancouver.


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