Amazon created a feeding frenzy when it announcement plans to open a second North American headquarters that would result in 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in capital expenditures for the chosen city. Politicians, economic development CEOs and planners were busy tweeting out why their city should be the winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes.
Can't Imagine A Better Place
Calgary mayor Nenshi was among them. He noted we have been selling our city to some of the biggest brands in the world for decades. "Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying too much on specific files we've been working on," Nenshi added, "But I can tell you that we're very familiar with this particular pitch and were not surprised by Amazon bringing this forward now. Looking at the criteria Amazon has put forward, he couldn't imagine a place that meets their needs better than Calgary.”
Calgary Economic Development President and CEO, Mary Moran, quickly confirmed Calgary would be making a strong pitch to Amazon. "The value proposition that we offer aligns with what Amazon is looking for. This is an innovative city with a highly educated and globally connected workforce, we have affordable available real estate, low-cost of doing business, exceptional transportation links and quality of life for their employees,” said Moran.
The New York Times went so far as to pick the perfect city for Amazon HQ2. From 25 cities, they short-listed Portland, Denver, Washington and Boston areas, then. picked Denver as the winner.
Brookings Institute picked Charlotte N.C., Bloomberg thought Boston was the best choice and Creative class guru Richard Florida is betting on Washington, D.C.
The only city in Canada that got any real attention in the scramble to predict a winner in the Amazon HQ2 Sweepstakes was Toronto. Then Jens Von Bergmann posted “Amazon – The Canadian Data” on twitter, looking at Amazon’s HQ2 requirements and Canadian cities and guess who came out on top – Calgary.
After reviewing Amazon’s Request for Proposals (RFP), here are my thoughts on why Calgary would be a good fit for Amazon HQ2. I will not address all of the technical issues and of course I can’t comment on what incentives our municipal, provincial or federal government might be able to give, which will be huge factor in their decision.
Rather, I will focus on three key areas identified in the RFP as important factors in Amazon’s decision: Thinking Big, Urban Living and Unique Culture.
Calgary was an early adopter (1981) of LRT as a core element of its city-wide transit system, long before Seattle, Denver or any American city for that matter. Today Calgary has the highest per capita LRT ridership in North America and with the development of the Green Line (46 kilometers, 28 stations, serving 27 communities) it will also have one of longest. In addition, Calgary is currently constructing two BRT routes as part of its ambitious rapid transit vision. And, if that isn’t enough, in 2001, our LRT became the first wind-powered public transit system in North America.
Calgary is also the cleanest city in the world as a result of our commitment to state-of-the-art water treatment plants. According to the Mercer Global Financial list, Calgary has been the world’s cleanest city in the world for several years now based on: availability and drinkability of water, waste removal, quality of sewage system, air quality and traffic congestion.
Calgary is on the path to becoming a premier green energy hub in North America, according to a Delphi Group’s study of the Calgary Region’s Green Energy Economy. The research showed in 2015, Calgary’s green energy economy was responsible for generating $3.63 billion in gross output, $1.78 billion in gross domestic product, and approximately 15,470 jobs. (Calgary Economic Development website)
Calgary, the largest logistic hub in Western Canada and one of the largest inland ports in North America, fits perfectly with Amazon’s operations.
Link: Calgary: An Inland Port
Calgary also thinks big when it comes to parks and pathways. We have over 5,200 parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world – Fish Creek (13.5 sq. km) and Nose Hill (11 sq. km). Calgary has 150 public off-leash areas across the city. Our three City Centre island parks (Prince’s, St. Patrick’s and St. George’s) in the middle of the Bow River are spectacular urban oasis. And don’t forget our easy access Banff National Park and Kananaskis Provincial Park.
In addition to our City Centre bike lanes (something asked for in the RFP) we also have over 1,000 km of pathways city-wide including the new 138 km Rotary/Mattamy Greenway that encircles the city connecting over 400,000 Calgarians. Calgary is a cyclist’s paradise for commuters and recreational cyclists.
Young & Active
As well, Calgary is currently building four mega recreation facilities (to the tune of almost half a billion dollars) – Rocky Ridge, Seton, Great Plains and Quarry Park.
The iconic Repsol Sports Center (formerly the Talisman Centre) with its iconic Teflon-coated semi-transparent fibreglass dinosaur-like roof is the second most used recreation facility in North America attracting over 1.8 million visitors annually. It opened in 1983 and was the catalyst for creating mega, multi-use recreation centers across the city.
Having visited Seattle, Denver, Portland and Austin recently, none of those cities can match Calgary’s amazing infill housing development occurring in our City Centre and inner-city communities. Tour any community within 10 km of Calgary’s downtown and you will find old homes being torn down and new family homes being built in their place on almost every block. You will also find dozens of multi-family buildings being built at strategic locations.
And, Calgary currently has seven mega new urban villages in various stages of construction in our inner city – Bridges, Currie, East Village, Eau Claire, Stadium, University District and University City/Brentwood.
In addition, Inglewood was chosen as “Canada’s Greatest Neighbourhood” by the Canadian Institute of Planners and Kensington was short-listed in 2014 (both communities have improved since then).
Add in the Beltline (the hipster capital of North America), Chinatown, Erlton, Mission, Ramsay and Sunalta and Calgary offers some of the most diverse and affordable urban living options in North America - from penthouses to micro-condos, from single-family infills to mansions, from transit-oriented living (N3 condo in East Village has no parking) to walking and cycling-oriented living.
All at affordable prices compared to most major North American cities.
Calgary is home to one of North America’s most unique annual festivals – Beakerhead. It is a smash up of science, engineering, technology, innovation, art and culture that takes place at multiple sites across the city. In 2017, there are 14 sites that area expected to attract over 125,000 participants over five days. It is exactly the kind of funky, futuristic, techy stuff Amazon loves.
The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is Canada’s second largest comic-com event attracting over 100,000 visitors. Theatre Sports, the precursor to the current improve theatre craze was invented in Calgary, at the University of Calgary in 1977.
Calgary is quickly becoming a major music city with the opening of the National Music Centre. We also have several major music festivals including Calgary International Folk Festival, Sled Island and the Performing Arts Festival (4,000 entries, 12,000 participants, makes one of the largest amateur competition music festivals in North America). The Honens Piano Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious events of its kind in the world. Cowtown Opera Company takes their satirical performances to the streets and shopping malls of the city.
Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo has been showcasing the best in contemporary international performance every January since 1986. In 2017, it featured 28 shows over 32 days with 150 performances by 200 artists from around the world. Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre is North America’s longest running lunchtime theatre company.
Calgary’s unique culture also includes an amazing diversity of recreational opportunities from speed skating to show jumping. Spruce Meadows is one of the best equestrian centres in the world and Shaw Millennium Park has one of the largest public skate parks in North America. Canada Olympic Park offers unique recreational experiences - downhill skiing, zip line, mountain biking, luge and bobsled. Calgary’s Olympic Oval has the fastest speeedskating ice in the world. In the winter Calgary boasts over 100 outdoor community skating rinks.
Canada: A Safe Haven?
When Amazon announced they were looking to set up a second headquarters, they indicated that it could be anywhere in North America. While most crystal ball gazers are assuming they will choose an American city, given the current political and social upheaval in the USA, Canada could well be a safe haven for Amazon.
Calgary is probably the most American friendly city in Canada. We have a strong entrepreneurial, business-oriented, future thinking culture, while at the same time having a strong community spirit. In 2016, Calgarians donated $55 million to United Way, the highest per capita United Way contribution in North America.
West Village aka Amazon Village
In many ways, Calgary has retained all that is good about the pioneer culture that created our city just over 100 years ago. While Calgary is a long shot to win the Amazon HQ2 headquarters, everyone loves an underdog.
FYI: Calgary may have a little insider help. James Gosling, a Calgarian and University of Calgary grad, who invented the Java computer language found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems and virtual-machine systems, joined Amazon in May 2017.
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