Preparing Winnipeg for the next Amazon-level opportunity
Winnipeg's bid for Amazon's HQ2 was about more than simply vying for Amazon - it was about competing for future business opportunities
Last week, when Amazon announced the twenty cities still in the running to be the site for its second headquarters, Winnipeg was not among the finalists. There is no doubt this would have been an incredible opportunity and chance to attract the anticipated $5 billion investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs. However, the takeaways we learned from this process were a net win for Winnipeg that will help us gain future business opportunities going forward.
Some of the city’s naysayers will tell you that Winnipeg’s exclusion from Amazon’s HQ2 shortlist was a foregone conclusion, and that we should not have bothered putting in a bid in the first place. My response to this reaction is to challenge those people to dare to dream bigger. Winnipeg businesses can and do compete within some of the world’s largest industries. From advanced manufacturing to agribusiness, to new areas like our burgeoning artificial intelligence community, Winnipeg businesses are leading the way.
Dreaming bigger means reaching for the brass ring. Following Amazon’s own philosophy, Winnipeg’s Amazon bid was a swing for the fences. In his 2015 letter to Amazon’s shareholders, Jeff Bezos says if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot. But you’re also going to hit some home runs. We took our best shot – and we swung hard. Whether or not we were ultimately successful in attracting Amazon, this was something that needed to be done.
This bid was about more than simply vying for Amazon – it was about competing for any number of future business opportunities. If we want to be counted among North America’s top places to do business, we need to make our presence known and assert ourselves. Our Amazon bid gave us a foundation that we can use going forward to leverage those success stories. We made a statement with this document that we shared with the world – Winnipeg is always open for business. It doesn’t matter what size your company is or the industry it’s operating in; we are ready to welcome you and be a part of your success.
Our Amazon bid book was also a chance to show ourselves what we are capable of. Winnipeg is awash with talent, culture and opportunity. There are many untold stories that many Winnipeggers aren’t even aware of. Our bid book for Amazon highlights some of these stories: we solved Ebola right here at the National Virology Lab, we are one of the country’s most diverse and stable economic performers, and we are one of the most cost-competitive locales to do business on the continent. Our cultural diversity can be found in every corner of the city, where over one hundred languages are spoken. Our Amazon application reminds us to hold our heads higher, walk taller and to tell others that we have a lot to offer here.
Our submission highlighted the best of Winnipeg, from business opportunity to culture to a convenient geographic location and transportation options. We have a world-class geographic location, right in the middle of the continent with direct air, rail, and road connections across North America. We have a wealth of talent at our disposal, with local leaders succeeding in thriving industries, from tech to transportation to HVAC and beyond. The average price of a home, low corporate tax rates, and some of the lowest utility rates in North America makes us one of the most affordable places to do business. And of course, our cultural institutions, restaurants, parks, amenities, and sports teams create an energy which attracts people looking for that world-class city vibe.
During their shortlist announcement, Amazon stated that they “learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation." Winnipeg is one of those communities - Jeff Bezos now knows what we have to offer, since our bid application was featured in an article on the front page of the Seattle Times.
Where does Winnipeg go from here? We need to continue working with companies right here at home and help them succeed. There are many examples of local businesses already accomplishing big things – we need to find ways to help those and other local companies grow, expand their customer base and find new global market opportunities. By enabling more homegrown wins and garnering a reputation of being a place where business thrives, we will see more long-term chances to attract the next big company.
The last few months have been an incredible opportunity for Winnipeg. We went toe-to-toe with the biggest cities in North America and held our own. As our city continues to grow and develop even more business ties, world-class infrastructure, and private investment – we will see these opportunities come our way more and more often. As long as we keep growing as we are now, it’s only a matter of time until we land our HQ2.