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Halifax misses out on Amazon bid

Shannon Park, an abandoned community that housed mainly military families and is slated for redevelopment, was offered as a possible location for the Amazon headquarters. ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP
Shannon Park, an abandoned community that housed mainly military families and is slated for redevelopment, was offered as a possible location for the Amazon headquarters. ANDREW VAUGHAN • CP - The Chronicle Herald

Mayor Mike Savage said Thursday he was not surprised Halifax is not on the short list of cities being considered for a second Amazon headquarters.

But he still believes it could have been a contender.

“I think we could have done it, but it’s a tough sell when you’ve got 240 cities or something (in competition),” Savage said.

“It was always a long shot, so that’s why we made sure that everything we did was based on longer-term gain.”

Amazon released a list of 20 finalists on Thursday, and Toronto is the only Canadian city in contention.

The Seattle-based online retailer said on its website it plans to invest $5 billion in the new headquarters and could employ as many as 50,000 people in the chosen community.

The list of finalists released on Thursday includes Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Nashville, Newark, Columbus, northern Virginia, and Montgomery County in Maryland.

The list was pared down from 238 community proposals and Amazon said it expects to make a final decision later this year.

In its bid to attract the company’s attention, the Halifax Partnership, the municipality’s economic development agency, created a website in November — www.amazonhfx.com— which highlights all the reasons Halifax should be considered for a second headquarters, including culture, location, economy, availability of talent and “the soul of this place.”

Savage said many city officials worked on the bid, but he couldn’t say what it cost. There was no specific budget item for the bid and any cost would have come out of existing budgets, he said.

“It wasn’t very much,” Savage said. “Certainlynot much compared to other cities, because

most of the work was either done by the Partnership or by people on their own time, so I don’t know what the cost is but I certainlywouldn’t have any aversion to letting people know what it was.”

The website remains “a great advertisement for HRM, for Halifax, so we obviously want to use a lot of that as we go forward,” he said. “Our innovation district has grown, the city has momentum, we’re keeping young people, and we now have a relationship with Amazon that we didn’t have before, so I think it’s all good.”

Some cities chose to publicly release their bid packages after they were submitted to Amazon, and Halifax’s was just as good as any of those, said Partnership CEO Ron Hanlon.

“Quite frankly, when we looked at other bids that are public and compared them to ours, I think we stood up really well,” he said.

Halifax’s full bid was kept sealed for competitive reasons but the package will be released publicly this week, Hanlon said. Officials are trying to figure out the best format.

The package mentioned the kinds of municipal, provincial and federal economic development programs available to help attract new business, he said, but it didn’t get into specific dollar amounts.

That kind of detail would likely have been needed from cities that made the short list, said Hanlon.

And he also said the cost of the bid would be difficult to determine, but it was not a significant amount because much of the work was done by people whose salaries were already included in existing budgets.

“Obviously we went in it to win it . . . but we pulled together a quality proposal,” Hanlon said. “I think Amazon should have selected Halifax, but we understand and that is the way things work.

“It was a very competitive process and we submitted an extremely solid proposal that I think offered some unique and interesting advantages for Halifax, but we understand and we’re on to other things.”

Hanlon said it was a great process to go through, pulling together people from different levels of government and the community, working together to showcase Halifax’s strengths.

The website used to pitch Amazon will remain online for some time but will eventually come down, he said. Meanwhile, much of the content is already being repurposed.

“We haven’t completely thought it through but the content, the style, the feel, the flavour of that content, including the video, is stuff that we’re going to find a way to get into what we call our ‘Sell Halifax’ toolkit, which is sort of a community and commercial community place for companies to pull content and tell our story,” said Hanlon.

“We’re going to find a way to make sure we use it and we’re sort of working right now to make it not Amazon-specific, but more generic about us.”

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