oxford-Amazon-vancouver
Amazon people go in here.  Click to enlarge. (Thanks to Oxford Properties and B+H Architects)

Why, oh why would Amazon want to put another 1,000 jobs into a big new building, right on the Dunsmuir bike lane, in the middle of downtown Vancouver?
Here’s an answer, directly from Alexandre Gagnon, Amazon VP for Canada/Mexico.
To quote Mr. Gagnon (from the video, below):  “Amazon was drawn to Vancouver because of the remarkable technical talent and the vibrant and diverse community here.”
Many thanks for this article and video to Derrick Penner and PostMedia outlet the Vancouver Sun. 
As discussed HERE, the Toronto bid for the humongous Amazon HQ2 focuses on people.  Apparently, the (still secret) Metro Vancouver bid has a similar focus amid concerns about a talent shortfall.
More broadly, it seems that Metro Vancouver is already an attractive and serious tech sector location.  But perhaps an even rosier future will start with an upcoming Canadian Federal Gov’t announcement on the 5 winners who will split $950M support for tech “superclusters” in Canada. The BC/Vancouver area is one of 9 shortlisted bids.  Among backers of this idea is Microsoft, whose President spoke at a recent Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference.  He called Vancouver “. . . a great home for technology and technology companies”.
Currently, the BC tech economy numbers look like this:   revenue of $26B per year, 150,000 people employed, with faster than average growth.  Major expertise areas are Internet of Things, game production, movie animation & special effects and large-scale data analysis. Apparently, this positions Vancouver and BC well to provide emerging services and products (such as data acquisition, visualization and analytics) to traditional industries — potentially huge markets.
Bringing it back to people, these industries are mostly (if not completely) people-driven.  It’s not like, say, an airline, which has to buy and maintain huge expensive machines, processes and facilities at the core of the business, in addition to lots of people. If the tech people and synergies are here, tech business will grow and tech businesses will move in.
To me, people are the real message from the Amazon HQ-Lite announcement and the 1,000 new tech jobs it brings. And it’s likely the core of the massive, daunting Amazon HQ2 RFP.  If HQ2 lands in Vancouver, it will be a fundamental step-change to an already-shifting view of who we are and what we do.  For better or for worse? Time will tell, and the crystal ball remains opaque.

Comments

  1. “these industries are mostly (if not completely) people-driven. It’s not like, say, an airline, which has to buy and maintain huge expensive machines, processes and facilities at the core of the business, in addition to lots of people.”
    I suspect this is a factor contributing to skyrocketing housing costs in many cities. In the past, farmland, natural resources and industrial facilities distributed work geographically. This spurred the growth of smaller cities and towns. With knowledge work, geography does not counterbalance the benefits of concentration. Those benefits increase exponentially with density and proximity. For all the talk about telecommuting, the value of in-person and informal interaction cannot be exaggerated.
    The more specialized one becomes, the fewer options for employment. People in many fields simply cannot find work in smaller centres because the jobs don’t exist – and never will. (Knowledge is a trap, of sorts.) Location becomes tremendously valuable; rents increase accordingly; those not in a knowledge business get priced out, while even many of its participants struggle. (Think poor actor in Hollywood: it doesn’t matter what it costs; there is no point living anywhere else.) Physical location is a strong determinant (not only consequence) of social and economic location. The result is a steep geographical gradient of wealth and inequality.
    I’m not saying this network logic is the main driver: obviously inequality and financialization play key roles. But those should be tractable problems if the political will exists. I’m not so sure about the concentration of knowledge work. It worries me, and I don’t have the answers.

    1. Maybe that’s all a better reason for Amazon to pick a smaller centre for their HQ2. Most large cities don’t need the boost it can deliver. Somewhere like Youngstown or Dayton OH could benefit mightily. Amazon could easily afford to spur/develop the amenities such a workforce would want. Usually these fading towns have fantastic early 20th century downtown cores that are just waiting for a revival.
      Toronto, Vancouver, LA, Denver etc don’t need this kind of lifeline.

  2. Amazon was known/rumoured last year to be expanding into this Oxford Properties expansion of 401 West Georgia – so it’s not a decision related to the 2nd headquarters and I don’t think you can extrapolate anything other than organic growth.
    Likewise, Amazon is also rumoured to be the lead tenant in Westbank’s “lantern” building to be built on the former Budget rent-a-car site on West Georgia across Homer from Library Square.
    Both of these locations are close to their existing office at Telus Garden (also Westbank).

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