Talent of two cities: Ottawa partners with Gatineau on Amazon HQ2 bid

Watson and Pedneaud-Jobin
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson (right) and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin hold the two cities' Amazon bid book up for media. Photo courtesy of Invest Ottawa.
Editor's Note

An earlier version of this story initially stated Amazon's initial facility will require a footprint of 50,000 square feet. In actuality the requirement is 500,000 square feet.

The National Capital Region’s two mayors sent off a collaborative bid to Amazon today, imploring the e-commerce giant to consider the benefits of locating its HQ2 in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and his Gatineau counterpart Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin met with Invest Ottawa’s Blair Patacairk at Bayview Yards this morning to unveil their joint bid book for Amazon.

The 100-plus page document highlights the strengths of both cities’ talent pool, their tech sector and post-secondary institutions and also includes prospective sites as suggestions for where the initial 500,000-square-foot facility might be best suited.

Watson celebrated the collaboration as “an historic” moment for the two partner cities.

“This is the first time the Gatineau and Ottawa communities have come together to bid on what could possibly turn out to be the biggest economic activity in our cities’ history,” he told media gathered at Bayview Yards.

Beyond the sense of camaraderie, the collaboration is also one of necessity: The bid had to incorporate the populations of both Ottawa and Gatineau (roughly 1.3 million) in order to meet Amazon’s minimum requirement of one million people.

The mayors declined to give peeks inside the book or share many specific details. Watson said the cities don’t want to give away their competitive edge nor violate any non-disclosure agreements set by Amazon; indeed, the e-commerce giant’s request for proposals includes the need for a “confidentiality” label on any submissions.

Pedneaud-Jobin also touted the region’s largely bilingual workforce as a selling point for any global technology company looking to set up here.

Whatever the end result, the Gatineau mayor said the process of putting together the bid has brought the two municipalities closer and has established a framework for collaborations like this in the future.

“That looks very, very good for future bids,” he said.

Amazon's HQ2 was also on the mind of some speakers at Tuesday’s Ottawa Real Estate Forum, which attracted brokers, landlords and investors from across the city.

Julianne Wright, the director and general manager of research, valuation and advisory at the Altus Group, said Ottawa "checks off" many of Amazon's boxes.

Canada's capital has the population size, international airport, mass transit, talented workforce and universities the e-commerce giant is seeking, she told delegates.

She acknowledged that many commentators left Ottawa off their short-list of likely contenders. But, she added, Ottawa lacks the shortcomings – including traffic and commuting times – of larger Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

What Ottawa has in common with those cities is the inability to offer Amazon financial incentives. U.S. cities, by contrast, are likely to put billions of dollars on the table, she said.

Watson too was realistic about the willingness of competitors south of the border to cough up enticements to Amazon that Ottawa may not be able to match – especially some of the more outrageous bids.

“One city is willing to switch its name to Amazon. We’re not willing to go down that route,” he said, drawing laughter from those in attendance.

The deadline for cities to submit their bids is Oct. 19. The final site selection and announcement is expected in 2018.

With files from Peter Kovessy.