Lack of tech talent likely cost Calgary in Amazon HQ2 bid
Published Thursday, January 18, 2018 7:39AM MST Last Updated Thursday, January 18, 2018 7:06PM MST
Amazon has released its list of communities that will proceed to the next step in the HQ2 process and Calgary did not make the shortlist.
The company is creating a second headquarters in North America and will invest over $5 billion in its construction.
The list of candidates was whittled down from 238 to 20 and officials say the proposals showed ‘enthusiasm and creativity.’
The 20 communities that have been chosen include:
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- Montgomery County
- Washington, D.C.
- Northern Virginia
Faisal Karmali, portfolio manager at Popowich Karmali Advisor Group, says Calgary did not quite meet all the criteria that Amazon was looking for.
“Number one was our mass transit system here in Calgary, compared to other cities that we were competing with, we’re not in the top five as an example. Number two, attracting tech talent. The City of Calgary is not known, or at least does not have a reputation, of mass companies coming to Calgary to have their technological talent, this is where Toronto does prevail over Calgary on a reputation basis,” he said.
Premier Rachel Notley, speaking from Calgary, said she was disappointed with the outcome but when she spoke with Amazon officials on Thursday morning, they had a lot of good things to say.
"They actually did say very, very good things about it. They said they had a whole new idea of Alberta and that Calgary did an excellent job."
Notley says while it would have been great to secure the deal, it highlights the kind of work they are doing in Alberta to diversify the economy.
"Over the past two and a half years, we’ve made a lot of investments to try and turn that corner. Some of it is actually working with post-secondary institutions to broaden the type of training that they offer to Albertans so that we really can engage in that diversification outside of the traditional uses within the energy market. But it doesn’t happen overnight."
Mary Moran, with Calgary Economic Development, the group that developed the pitch that was sent to Amazon, says she was disappointed to hear that Calgary was not chosen and says that while they put together a very creative pitch that got a lot of media attention, the bid had a lot more to do with geography than they realized.
"They didn’t select a lot of western cities. There was a lot of concentration in the east and they definitely did not indicate that in the RFP."
She also says that Calgary's tech talent deficit also worked against the bid.
"Tech talent is definitely a weakness. They put heavy weighting on that. They talked about even more specifically that not only are you able to create entry level people, like new grads coming out of tech schools, but also senior people. Because you can build teams around them. We actually don’t have strength in either."
Alan Fedoruk, who teaches computer science at Mount Royal University, says his school's two program only produce a handful of graduates each year.
"Our programs are relatively small, we are seeing 25 to 30 students graduating from our program every year, U of C is bigger, but they’re not huge by any means. They’re seeing a couple hundred if you’re including engineering and computer science all together."
He says there is a thirst for students to learn computer science, but they are limited by the school's budget.
"We have two programs. We have our Bachelor of Computer Information Systems and we have our Computer Science degree program and both of those have seen a strong increase in pressure over the last few years. We get several hundred applicants for about 100 seats. They’re there, waiting to come in, so if we give them the seats in the programs, they’ll be there."
The company currently has a campus in Seattle and says the new headquarters are expected to generate about 50,000 jobs.
For more on the announcement, click HERE.