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Toronto
The city of Toronto. (BigStock Photo)

Toronto is the only city outside the U.S. in the running for Amazon’s storied second headquarters. That sets the Canadian city apart from its 19 competitors in a number of ways. Amazon has become a frequent target of President Donald Trump over the past year, which could make Toronto’s promise of a metropolis beyond the U.S. government’s reach seem appealing. 

But the officials behind Toronto’s bid for Amazon HQ2 don’t necessarily see the U.S. political climate as an asset.

“I think if we were an American city we’d be number one,” said Michael Keoshkerian, an investment advisor with Toronto Global, the organization handling the Amazon HQ2 proposal, in an interview with GeekWire. But the $5 billion question is, “Does Jeff Bezos want to piss off Trump?”

“That’s the unknown right now,” Keoshkerian continued. “We think we compare very strongly to the top American contenders. The unknown is how far Amazon wants to go with putting their second headquarters outside the U.S.”

From a political perspective, there are both symbolic and strategic reasons Amazon might choose to locate HQ2 outside the U.S. The company took a bold stance against Trump’s initial travel ban, claiming that the temporary halt on immigration from majority Muslim countries would hurt recruiting and business at Amazon. Canada has less restrictive immigration policies than the U.S., which would allow Amazon to recruit more international talent.

“We have one of the most diverse cities in the world,” Keoshkerian said. “We can host talent from anywhere in the world.”

Talent is a key consideration for HQ2 and Toronto ranks high in that category. Amazon already has a Toronto outpost and sees potential in the city’s talent pool. A GeekWire analysis of the HQ2 cities where Amazon is hiring the most workers puts Toronto squarely in the middle.

But Toronto will soon be home to another American tech giant. Google is relocating its Canadian headquarters to the city as part of a novel project with Sidewalk Labs, another company under the Alphabet umbrella. Sidewalk is designing a mini smart city on Toronto’s waterfront as a test case for how technology could improve urban planning. When Google comes to town, it will mean increased competition for talent.

Planting the $5 billion campus outside the U.S. would also send a strong message to Trump, who has been floating the possibility that Amazon should be investigated under antitrust law.

Of course, choosing Toronto could trigger retaliation from the federal government. Keeping American jobs and companies in the U.S. is a flagship issue for Trump.

“The fact is that the U.S. administration, led by the president, is really hostile to any type of expansion outside the U.S.,” Keoshkerian said.

In January, Amazon announced that Toronto and 19 American cities made it onto a shortlist for HQ2, a 50,000-person campus equal to the first in Seattle. Shortly after, Toronto submitted additional information about its proposal that Amazon requested, Keoshkerian said.

Amazon officials visited each of the 20 cities on a recon mission. Since then, Keoshkerian and his team haven’t heard much from the company. Amazon plans to announce the winning city by the end of 2018.

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