City leaders across the continent are thinking about how they can best pitch their communities to Amazon as the Thursday deadline for HQ2 pitches approaches. They’ve been combing through criteria in Amazon’s request for proposals (RFP) and considering what could make their city stand in what many consider the most coveted headquarters competition ever.
As countless pitches arrive at Amazon’s doorstep this week, GeekWire got a glimpse at how some of the cities plan to make their case. We reached out to the mayors of more than 10 leading contenders to get an inside look at their proposals. Austin and Boston declined to participate and Chicago and Charlotte did not respond by our deadline.
GeekWire Special Coverage: Amazon to build second HQ in North America
Those who did participate shared how they plan to sell their cities to Amazon in the hopes of bringing the 50,000 promised jobs and $5 billion dollar investment to their communities.
Take Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, who is hanging his city’s pitch on its history, engineering horsepower, and universities.
“Today, we are back on the global stage, and this time it is through a diversified economy of technology, robotics, finance, education, life sciences and energy,” he said in a statement provided to GeekWire. “And through its indefatigable people. With more than 30 universities in the Pittsburgh area and a richly educated talent base – much of it seeped in the cutting edge of robotics and engineering – this city will change the ways we understand 21st Century commerce and technology.”
It also doesn’t hurt that two of Amazon’s top executives have close ties to Pittsburgh.
Then there’s Toronto, a favorite among speculators because it takes Amazon international and has a thriving tech scene. Toronto also topped GeekWire’s data-driven analysis of which cities Amazon is most likely to pick.
“The Toronto Region is also home to the most diverse workforce in the world … we welcome more than 100,000 immigrants each year,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory. “Our federal government recently introduced the Fast-Track Visa For Technology Talent and Canada’s Global Skills Strategy makes it easier for Canadian businesses to attract the talent they need to succeed in the global marketplace.”
Amazon has laid out four top criteria in the HQ2 RFP: Metropolitan areas with more than one million people; a stable and business-friendly environment; locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent; and communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options.
Obviously, many cities across North America fit the bill so how will each one set itself apart from the pack? Continue reading to find out why these seven mayors think their city is the best fit.
Toronto Mayor John Tory
“In a 2016 letter to stakeholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos preached the wisdom of staying relevant by embracing external trends. As his company searches for an urban location for Amazon HQ2, the Toronto Region is home to some trends that should be capturing his attention:
We’ve got the talent
The Toronto Region is already the third-largest tech sector in North America, behind San Francisco and New York City. But the area in and around Canada’s largest city also added more new tech jobs in 2015-2016 than the NYC and San Francisco/Bay Area combined – growth that should make everyone’s head spin.
Why is that happening? The region is home to more than 11 prominent universities and colleges with 60 plus tech-related programs. Our high employee retention rates have placed Toronto as one of the top three cities in the world for recruiting, employing and relocating employees (AON Hewitt People Risk Index), and our tech sector is diversified, with a vibrant mix of incubators, accelerators, startups, growth-stage companies and Canadian HQs for established global giants like IBM, Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
We’ve got the skills
The Bezos letter to shareholders also identified AI & Machine learning as the most meaningful trends of the time. Canada is an undisputed leader in these fields, with the new Vector Institute in Toronto home to the godfather of AI, Geoffrey Hinton.
But AI & Machine Learning aren’t the only deep technical skills where the Toronto region leads.
Nearby Kitchener-Waterloo (which is the same distance from Toronto as the Valley is from San Francisco) is home to the University of Waterloo, the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Enrollment in Computer Sciences programs in our region has nearly doubled in the region since 2010 and enrollment of students from outside of Canada is climbing quickly.
And unlike some tech ecosystems, we’re not just good at one thing. Our deep tech expertise is helping us lead in emerging fields like cryptocurrency and blockchain, while we continue to operate as North America’s second-largest financial services sector and third-largest food and beverage sector.
We’ve got the world
The Toronto Region is also home to the most diverse workforce in the world according to the OECD, and more than half of our population is foreign-born. Our residents speak more than 150 languages and we welcome more than 100,000 immigrants each year.
Our federal government recently introduced the Fast-Track Visa For Technology Talent and Canada’s Global Skills Strategy makes it easier for Canadian businesses to attract the talent they need to succeed in the global marketplace.
So our diversity is a competitive advantage as well as a core value: we are a place that strives toward equal opportunity, inclusion and accessibility – opening up new markets at the same time.
We’ve got it all
And finally, for a customer-obsessed company like Amazon, you can’t overlook what people want. And people want to live in Toronto. The fourth-largest city in North America, our regional population is 6.4 million and growing fast.
Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is the second-largest international airport in North America, serving more than 44 million passengers every year and offering regular direct flights to Seattle.
Our region also offers one of the most vibrant and eclectic offerings of food, culture, art, music and sports, and all three levels of government are investing in maintaining our quality of life through transit and regional rail, affordable housing, GHG reduction and active transportation.
We are a place where maternity leave is a year-long and same-sex marriage has long been legal, and where our public health care system means that employee health care costs are nearly half of those operating in the U.S.
That’s a prime location if I’ve ever seen one.”
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto
“PITTSBURGH — Elks Lodge #339, Cedar Avenue, North Side. A waitress slivers through the crowd with a pitcher of beer while a couple dozen banjo players strike up ‘Anchors Aweigh.’ Navy vets pull themselves up from the card tables to be recognized. From the back bar, guys dressed vaguely like lumberjacks, but who are making six-figures at one of the AI firms across town, smile over their cans of PBR.
On Wednesday nights at Banjo Club old Pittsburgh and new Pittsburgh come together organically. It’s the type of fusion, or magic, I see repeatedly across the patchwork of 90 neighborhoods that make this city special.
How, I wonder, did Pittsburgh get here and what amazing things will it do next? Who will partner with us to bring equity to all of this great city, which includes those who so often are looking from the outside in?
A hundred years ago, we built this country. We were a global leader in the second Industrial Revolution – we built America and we built the middle class. Back then Pittsburgh’s industries were forged by natural resources and goods transported by river and rail. Today, the city’s rebirth is fueled by a unique pipeline of talent, ingenuity and authenticity that has the world on notice. And that happens to feature robot cars.
Pittsburgh has survived on its own. When the industries that built us started to poison us, we rolled up our sleeves and created the first clean air standards of their kind. When Pittsburgh faced unemployment levels in the 1980s worse than those in the Great Depression it got no handouts; stubbornly, the city rebuilt itself. Today, we are back on the global stage, and this time it is through a diversified economy of technology, robotics, finance, education, life sciences and energy.
And through its indefatigable people.
With more than 30 universities in the Pittsburgh area and a richly educated talent base – much of it seeped in the cutting edge of robotics and engineering – this city will change the ways we understand 21st Century commerce and technology. Recent U.S. Census figures show Pittsburgh is growing its percentage of college-educated residents at a faster pace than the rest of the country, and its percentage growth of residents ages 25-34 is also above national averages.
Our new residents are getting to work on roads with smart signals that communicate with each other to ease traffic flow and cut emissions; on an expanding network of protected bike lanes and riverfront trails; and in walkable communities where residents can buy affordable, historic homes near jobs, stores and schools. Or they can take one of the self-driving cars being pioneered here, building upon decades of pioneering research at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Pittsburgh is a place that honors its past and preserves it for the future. It has been a leader in environmental stewardship for 70 years, and those commitments continue in our signing on to the Paris Climate Accords, and orders I have signed to adopt 100 percent clean energy by 2030.
Our commitments to resilience extend beyond efforts to address climate change and include the needs of low income and elderly residents, who are often the first to experience the negative effects of economic and environmental disruption. This is why Pittsburgh has adopted what we call the ‘p4’ development model, in which all our redevelopment efforts are viewed through a holistic lens that includes people, planet, place and performance.
We welcome all innovators to join us in this groundbreaking and evolving work – and to join the proud people of Pittsburgh – as we build the world’s next great city.”
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser
“For many reasons – the same reasons that nearly 1,000 people choose to move to our city each month – Washington, D.C. is an ideal location for Amazon HQ2. With our growing tech scene, talented and diverse workforce, and inclusive environment, our city is well-positioned to welcome Amazon.
Today, Washington, D.C. sits at the forefront of innovation and change. We are a world within a city – home to 681,000 residents, the seat of our federal government, and host to nearly 200 embassies and consulates, the headquarters of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and two international airports that can connect residents and visitors to almost any place in the world. Our many museums and monuments tell the fascinating and complex history of our country, and our vibrant and creative neighborhoods reflect the diversity and vibrancy of our residents and small businesses.
As the world’s first LEED Platinum City, we are setting the bar for creating safer, healthier, and greener communities. We take sustainability and resilience seriously and, through our state-of-the-art smart cities infrastructure and multi-modal transportation system, we are integrating them into the everyday functions of city life and local government.
People come to Washington, D.C. because they know this is a city where they can start and grow their businesses and a place where they will have access to some of the most talented people and top universities in the world. We are a city that is committed to supporting entrepreneurs – committed to serving as the capital of inclusive innovation. In just the past year, we launched D.C.’s Inclusive Innovation Incubator, the nation’s first affordable co-working incubator focused on diversity and inclusion, and teamed up with a local organization to create the Pathways Scholarship, a first of its kind initiative to provide tech training, mentorship, and employment services for under and unemployed communities in D.C.
In short: Washington, D.C. is the place to be for people and businesses who want to thrive in the present while preparing for the future.
So where is the best place for Amazon HQ2? Obviously, D.C.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed
“The partnership between the Governor’s office and the Mayor’s office has resulted in major economic development wins for the entire metropolitan region. The city’s cooperative relationship with the state sends a strong signal to companies looking to expand or relocate.
We believe Atlanta is the perfect place to build businesses: we are the cultural and economic capital of the Southeast and the anchor of the ninth largest economy in the country in the eighth largest state in the country.
We have the world’s busiest and most efficient passenger airport, leading universities and a culture of innovation. Atlanta has the fundamental assets to be strong partners to great businesses, and help them grow and succeed.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney
“Philadelphia has it all with room to grow and the talent to make it happen. It is the second largest city on the East Coast with all the benefits of urban living, but without the financial sacrifice that comes with most big cities. Philadelphia is walkable, bikeable, diverse and replete with all of the arts, culture and gastronomy that one could want, centrally located between the country’s political and financial capitals.
From a talent perspective, Philadelphia has the fastest growing millennial population among the country’s 10 largest cities, and our 102 colleges and universities produce 90,000 graduates a year. In today’s labor constrained pool, being able to recruit directly from our top-notch universities is a huge advantage. Regional schools include the alma maters of some Amazon leadership, like Princeton and Drexel.
Philadelphia also has a lot of pre-existing tech talent from which to recruit. A quarter of the new jobs created in Philly since 2000 are tech jobs. That’s the highest rate of growth among big cities, outside of the Bay Area. Software application developers comprise the greatest portion of tech jobs in the region and the segment continues to grow. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of software application developers in the region grew by a staggering 66 percent.
In addition to being more affordable than most big cities, Philly is unique in that there is room for Amazon to build its headquarters in the heart of the city, which is a major plus for the work-life harmony of Amazon’s employees. With a strong public transit system and walkable layout, Philly already has one of the shortest commute times of large East Coast communities and nearly 40 percent of Center City residents walk to work.
The cost of living in Philadelphia is nearly 20 percent less than in most major metropolitan regions, but the rich cultural diversity that stretches across our many neighborhoods makes living here just as exciting as our more expensive peers. A majority-minority city with the second most populous downtown in the country, Philadelphia is host to three 2017 James Beard award winners, one of the country’s top five art museums, more public art than any other city in the country and — in the last year alone — we were the site of both the NFL Draft and the Democratic National Convention.
Philadelphia also has the perfect location to support Amazon’s growth. An East Coast hub nestled between New York and D.C., a quarter of the U.S. population lives within a five-hour drive and 60 percent of the country’s residents can be reached within a two-hour flight. Philadelphia International Airport is a major hub for American Airlines, and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is Amtrak’s third-busiest commuter station in the country.
Amazon is looking for the Goldilocks Zone. A place that already has the density, amenities and resources of a big city, but that still has room for them to grow a campus at its heart. A place that will provide their employees with a strong work-life harmony and attract future talent, but at an affordable cost of living usually found in smaller, less dense metro areas. Philadelphia is it.”
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane
“The city of Raleigh would welcome Amazon HQ2 or any other organization that is looking for an opportunity to become part of our already growing and dynamic community. Raleigh is a city that enjoys a high quality of life that is well supported by our top-rated public school system, extensive greenway trails and public parks, emerging arts culture, temperate climate, and low cost of living. We are recognized around the world for our incredibly talented and highly educated workforce, our storied university system, our diverse and innovative economy, and our thriving entrepreneurial spirit. Raleigh is a smart, healthy, thoughtful and creative community that values collaboration and partnerships and we are excited about the opportunity that Amazon HQ2 presents.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
“Amazon is a leading innovator, and we’re excited about this headquarters expansion opportunity. This is a mega-prospect and we have initiated conversations with our economic development partners at the state and regional level to thoroughly consider the best possible fit for Denver and the region.”
We’ve launched our own search for GeekWire HQ2, a temporary second headquarters where we will embed ourselves in a carefully selected community to report on its tech scene and assess its chances of becoming the next great North American tech city. See our RFP here and more details here.