Wortley Villager - Nov 2017

Are we ready?


When Amazon announced that it would be seeking a location for it’s second headquarters (HQ2), cities across North America began to scramble to prepare bids for the Request for Proposals.  In London, there was a lot of debate about whether we could be a suitable site for HQ2, too.  I mean, why not?  With Amazon comes jobs, international attention, and a massive injection into the local economy.  But whether or not London is a candidate site for Amazon’snew headquarters, the greater question is whether we could have the ingredients to be the right place for anyone’sheadquarters.  And that’s where Amazon’s RFP comes in.

You see, when Amazon asked cities to bid to host their new HQ, what they also did was give every North American city a shopping list of the things that creative employers are looking for.  This is important stuff.  For a while now, cities have tried to predict what would entice companies to set up shop in their town but now someone has explicitly laid that out for us. 

So what did Amazon say they needed in their new host city? Ready access to a highly educated labour pool, land ready for development or buildings that could be redeveloped, access to mass transit such as trains and busses, quick access to an international airport, environmental sustainability, connectivity, a stable business environment, cultural / community fit, and a high quality of life all ranked very high in the desired characteristics for their new home.  In essence, one of the most important qualities Amazon was looking for was someplace that could be a great place for their employees to live. 

When you look at this list, you can start to recognize some of London’s strengths and it also helps us see where we need to invest. We’re fortunate to have two leading educational institutions in London from which we can draw new talent.  We have assembled and prepared shovel ready lands for industrial development and we have great heritage buildings in our core that are well suited for adaptive reuse.  We have direct air, rail and highway access and we have been developing gigabit connectivity for businesses downtown in order to help get product to market.  Our multi-year budget provides for stable and predictable taxation.  And London’s neighbourhoods have been rated amongst the best in Canada (including our very own!).  As it stands right now, we have a lot of the ingredients for a great city, but we’re also working hard to fill the gaps. 

This is where things like rapid transit, green bins, planting and protecting of trees, building bike lanes and high-speed rail, enhancing our cultural centres, and redeveloping the Forks of the Thames and Dundas Street, amongst many others, become such important initiatives for attracting businesses to London and encouraging new start-ups to take root in our city.  

Personally, I know we have a lot to offer to those who might want to make London a home for their business but we still have work to do.  We need to take the lessons offered to us from Amazon’s search so we can make sure we’re ready for when good opportunities come a knockin’.

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