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Melody Ma is a web developer, technologist, and active thought leader on urban issues in Vancouver.

Ma recently wrote a cogent think piece in the Vancouver Sun challenging some of the assumptions about the new 3,000 Amazon jobs that will be created when the American online retailer settles into downtown Vancouver, in the former home of the post office.

Ms. Ma notes that despite Mayor Robertson’s framing of this job influx as a big win, it may not be so. Amazon, she says, “will add more strain to the housing affordability situation, it will also strain our technology labour market, potentially negatively impacting the very sector that it is supposed to help.”

In a 2017 market study, the Vancouver Economic Commission found that there were three challenges to bringing good technology workers to Vancouver; from this study, Ma notes that:

“Vancouver’s homegrown technology firms, which are mostly startups to mid-sized firms, will not be able to compete with Amazon in the talent arena. The industry already relies on poaching due to a constricted talent pool. Unlike peers in the U.S., most Vancouver-based companies do not have access to the necessary financial capital to pay a premium for talent due to our small venture capital ecosystem. Amazon’s increased presence can potentially stunt the development and growth of existing local companies that do not have competitive access to skilled talent.”

“Even when a promising startup is spun off, the Vancouver technology sector has a culture of opting for quick exits like being acquired by a large U.S. firm rather than to take the longer and harder route of developing an anchor company, partly due to the lack of access to large and later-stage capital to scale. A recent example is Buddybuild, started by a team of ex-Amazon employees, which sold to Apple shortly after its launch. Another is Paypal’s latest acquisition of Vancouver-grown TIO Networks that led to ceasing of operations and closure of the office totalling hundreds of local jobs.”

Ma suggests that, for Vancouver to have a successful local technology sector, it still needs a few things:

“Resources, talent, and cultural change to encourage homegrown companies to develop into anchor companies. Otherwise, we risk becoming a back-office city reliant on foreign technology behemoths, while hindering our homegrown companies from reaching their full potentials.”

Read Ma’s opinion piece in full here.

11670553_web1_p-amazon-180330Images: Ms.604 & TrailTimes