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Toronto the only Canadian city on Amazon's short list of HQ2 candidates

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 at 11:20 am EDT

TORONTO – Toronto is the only Canadian city still in the running to host Amazon’s multibillion-dollar second headquarters.

The e-commerce giant released Thursday its short list of 20 candidates for the facility — out of 238 cities that applied last year — which is expected to house up to 50,000 employees.

Bids poured in from Canadian cities from coast to coast as both major urban centres like Montreal and Halifax vied with smaller dark-horse competitors such as Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

In the end, however, Toronto was the only Canadian city to make the short list, where it stands alongside American metropolises such as Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” Amazon said in a tweet announcing the short list. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory celebrated the news that the city and surrounding municipalities were in contention.

“Last year, I said I would put the Toronto Region up against any city in North America as the place for ambitious, forward-looking companies looking for a home,” he said in a statement touting Toronto’s talent, quality of life and vibrancy. “I’m glad that Amazon agrees that Toronto is worth considering.”

In the bid it submitted to Amazon last October, Toronto was quick to point out that it met all the criteria the company specified in its search for a second corporate home.

The company’s wish list included proximity to a metropolitan area with more than a million people; ability to attract top technical talent, a location 45 minutes from an international airport, direct access to mass transit, and the capacity to expand the headquarters to more than 740,000 square metres over the next decade.

Toronto also touted diversity as one of its strengths alongside its lower business costs relative to similarly sized American competitors, expanding infrastructure and low crime rates.

The city’s pitch also took what could be construed as a dig at U.S. President Donald Trump and his administrations anti-immigration policies.

“We build doors, not walls,” reads the cover letter from the group co-ordinating the bid from Toronto and several surrounding municipalities. “Those doors open to highly skilled economic immigrants and international students who can easily become permanent residents and citizens.”

Ontario’s Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca said Toronto’s placement on the Amazon short list is “outstanding news” for the entire province.

“I think it’s a very clear indication that it’s a jurisdiction that’s attracting top talent and top talent (is) being trained in this area.”

Asked if economic incentives were back on the table to land Amazon, Del Duca said the province will continue to push its skilled work force as the top selling point.

“The focus of our efforts has been talking about the kind of talent that we have at the table,” he said. “I know that from the very beginning we’ve stressed that that’s the focus of what makes Ontario and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area particularly appealing for organizations and companies like Amazon. I believe that’s what we’ll continue to stress.”

The effort to bring the new headquarters to Canada was spearheaded by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who penned a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the bids were flooding in.

The letter, which did not single out any particular city, outlined commercial, cultural and social reasons why Amazon should call Canada home to the new offices, dubbed HQ2.

“Canadian cities are progressive, confident, and natural homes for forward-thinking global leaders,” Trudeau wrote in his letter. “They are consistently ranked as the best places to live, work and play in the world.”

Canada’s business advantages include costs among the lowest in the G7, universal health care that lowers the cost to employers, stable banking systems, and a deep pool of highly educated prospective workers from both at home and abroad, according to Trudeau.

The letter also touched on increased government investment in skills development, culturally diverse, walkable cities and streamlined immigration processes.