Caslin & Amazon: Lessons for a 21st Century Niagara

Amazon is looking to build a second headquarters. The mega-project could employ up to 50,000 residents and would represent an injection of billions of dollars into whichever community is selected to host it. Since the announcement, municipal politicians from across North America have been scrambling to make the best case for the golden prize of economic development. 

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Though many have pointed out that Niagara fails to have many of the criteria required, it hasn’t stopped Regional Chair Alan Caslin from trying to make headlines. Chair Caslin has said that he will be aggressively seeking the investment. A closer look at the Request for Proposal made by Amazon can articulate what communities of the future can build towards to attract the type of companies that will likely define the 21

While Niagara is a....longshot (to put it mildly) to attract Amazon, a closer look at the Request for Proposal made by Amazon can be instructive as to how communities of the future can adopt policies to attract the type of companies that will likely define the 21st century.

Many of the conditions in the Amazon RFP are typical of the requests made by any large corporation: a friendly tax system, ready-to-go development spots and supportive local politicians are standard when it comes to large international companies deciding where to set up shop. The difference here is that Amazon has highlighted what the companies of the future might be doing differently.

The difference here is that Amazon has highlighted what the companies of the future might be doing differently.

What Companies Will Be Looking For In The Future

For example, Amazon includes in its RFP numerous references to the existence of higher education facilities. Instead of looking for a pool of the cheapest labour possible, Amazon has requested local, highly-skilled and educated employees. The implication goes beyond that, though. The existence of higher educational institutions is designed not just to attract skilled workers but to create a community where workers can raise their families and where their kids can find a good education and remain at home. 

The RFP also talks about transportation and heavily implies the existence of a strong public transportation network is a key determinant. This would allow their employees to easily get to their place of work but also to commute freely around their own communities. 

It stresses access to fibre optic connectivity. The proposal even goes as far to say that Amazon is looking for a community that can display its diversity. The document stresses Amazon’s commitment to sustainability, renewable resources and green energy.

The proposal even goes as far to say that Amazon is looking for a community that can display its diversity. The document stresses Amazon’s commitment to sustainability, renewable resources and green energy.

The document stresses Amazon’s commitment to sustainability, renewable resources and green energy.

Perhaps the document is best summed up by this excerpt:

“We want to invest in a community where our employees will enjoy living, recreational opportunities, educational opportunities, and an overall high quality of life. “

What Can Niagara Draw From This Amazon RFP?

We’re lucky enough to have two fantastic post-secondary institutions in Niagara, Niagara College and Brock University. That's a checkmark for us. Both of these institutions have shown a willingness to be on the cutting edge of education, technology and predicting the future labour market.

But do Chair Caslin and other politicians who have spent time and resources touting Niagara for Amazon believe they have created a world-class public transportation system ready-made for one of the world’s most influential companies? Does Chair Caslin believe that his Council has championed policies which promote and encourage diversity? Does Chair Caslin believe that he is an environmental champion who has produced support for the green economy in the same fashion as the company he’s courting?

On all of these key determinants, it is not hard to see that Niagara has some work to do. Amazon isn’t looking for a government that will bend any rules they can to welcome them. Instead, it appears in their RFP, they’re looking for the communities of the 21st century where workers' kids can access higher education, people can move freely, diversity is welcomed and championed, and where people feel they live in open and healthy cities.

Perhaps Chair Caslin should examine the reasons why we’re likely to fail to attract Amazon and work on those as opposed to trying to make headlines. 

Instead of getting caught in the headlines, our politicians should be focusing on policies that will make life better for Niagarans, which will have a residual effect of making us attractive to business. Let's not wander aimlessly in search of a silver bullet. Let us, instead, start the important work of building a better Niagara.


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