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Jan 18, 2018

Why some fear Amazon's HQ2 in Toronto would be a 'disaster' for Canadian tech

Why Amazon HQ2 in Toronto would be a bad thing

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Some in Canada's technology sector are pumping the brakes on any celebrations Toronto might be planning for making the Amazon HQ2 shortlist.

Toronto was one of 20 cities – and the only one located outside the United States – to make the cut as Amazon (AMZN.O) pared down its list of possible locations for its second headquarters on Thursday.

Canadian tech leaders are going so far as to say the results of Toronto actually landing the coveted facility could be disastrous on a local level.

Well-known Canadian entrepreneur Anthony Lacavera told BNN that Amazon’s primary objective in Toronto would be to poach Canada’s top talent, not create jobs for Canadians.

“This is a long-term disaster for Canada,” the Globalive Capital chairman told BNN in an interview Thursday. “The short-term, headline news is fantastic, in terms of high-paying, good jobs -  a headline number of 50,000 jobs – sounds appealing on the surface, but we really need to dig a little bit deeper into what’s going on here.”

“What they’re really doing is coming here and identifying our top talent, paying them less than they would have to pay them in the United States and, the ones that rise to the top are just going to be taken down to Seattle or wherever in the U.S. to continue their careers there.”

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Abdullah Snobar, executive director at DMZ, agreed with Lacavera, saying Toronto must tread carefully to avoid disrupting its budding tech industry. 

“If we give Amazon carte blanche to kind of just come in and figure out what they want, it’s going to be a disaster for our tech community,” he told BNN in an interview.

"Fifty-thousand jobs. That’s not [a] little amount of jobs that can be taken away from potentially billion-dollar companies that can be generated and created right here in the city of Toronto," he added. "So we have to look at the long term impacts of that. We could be killing the potential next Amazon by creating another Amazon [headquarters] here without looking at the implications of that." 

Prominent digital investor (and co-host of BNN's The Disruptors) Bruce Croxon was also less than enthused that Toronto is still in the HQ2 running, voicing his frustrations on Twitter Thursday.

Toronto is Amazon's best pick for HQ2, but politics will give Bezos pause: Ed Clark

BNN speaks with Ontario Premier's business advisor and former TD Bank CEO, Ed Clark, about what will go into Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' thinking when selecting Amazon's second North American headquarters.

"I'm not excited in the least to have Canada on this list," Croxon wrote on Twitter. "We have the talent to build our own Amazon here but we need all hands on deck including the engineers that would be pilfered by an Amazon outpost."

Canada’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, however, says Canada can keep on top of the brain drain through training the next generation of talent, along with importing it.

“It’s a reminder of how important it is to invest in Canadians, in skills in education,” Navdeep Bains said in an interview with BNN on Thursday. “So that’s why we’re going to work with the province of Ontario and other jurisdictions, and other communities as well to invest in more post-secondary institutions; to look at immigration and how we can bring more talent and have more opportunities for not only Amazon, but for other companies to scale and grow as well.”

Lacavera remains skeptical that Toronto will win out in the end, pointing out that the city is at a steep disadvantage in the face of the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ policies.

“One tweet from Donald Trump saying ‘boycott Amazon and buy Wal-Mart’: How many millions of Americans across the central United States would just go onto Walmart.com and start buying there? It could do significant damage to Amazon’s sales with one single tweet,” Lacavera said.  

“There’s an extremely remote chance [that] we have any chance at winning this bid.”