Amazon H2Q: Startup Killer? 

With all the hype surrounding the recent Amazon HQ2 bid by the city of Ottawa, it’s easy to find countless articles about all the ways that the presence of the e-commerce giant’s headquarters would benefit Ottawa’s economy. But would Amazon’s presence in Ottawa be an improvement on all business fronts? On the bid, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement: “My hope is that we will be placing a strong and convincing bid to host Amazon HQ2 in our nation’s capital, which would greatly benefit our community, attracting tens of thousands of jobs and helping diversify our economy”. While all these statements may be true, there are other angles to consider.

If you read the pitch deck buried in the heart of the details was a line, which at first glance, celebrates the strength of students and alumnus of the region: “Amazon will be able to draw directly from the thousands of STEM and business grads groomed at the Capital Region’s four universities and five colleges.” This very well could be the case: for students looking to bridge into a stable role after their education is complete, the massive international company may bring forth a plethora of new opportunities.

With all these factors considered, the city of Ottawa delivered their official Amazon HQ2 pitch last month.The public discussions surrounding the bid have been overwhelmingly positive so far, and of course, there are undoubtedly many ways that Amazon’s headquarters could improve economic life in Ottawa. However, with all these benefits comes a risk. Particularly to existing small businesses and startups, as well as entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own companies. Consider that by housing the Amazon headquarters in Ottawa, the city would be giving the e-commerce giant the ability to extract one of Ottawa’s greatest resources: its talent.

While there are a ton of unknowns with this bid, we do know that Amazon operates on scale that Ottawa’s never seen before. Companies like Shopify, Klipfolio, You.i and many others can directly correlate their successes in scaling their operations with the arms length access to a region with a higher talent index of graduating students and alumni. It’s the same reason Amazon hired their Alexa team here – a product they are banking their future on. If you break down specific in-demand skill sets and consider the case of hiring a local Ruby on Rails developer, you don’t need to go far to hear the many stories of significant challenges that scaling companies have run into when trying to scale standing in the shadows of a local giant gobbling up this particular skill set. If the future growth and success of our region, in the areas of e-commerce, IOT, SaaS, design, security, networking and communications depends on local companies being able to hire in a timely fashion, access to talent will be critical. And while in theory, every company really has access to the same pool of talent, the Amazon HQ2 bid brings a ripple to a pond that could have far more wide ranging ramifications than anyone has ventured to talk about up to this point.

So what do you think? Will an Amazon HQ impact your ability to attract top talent?