Spurred in part by Toronto’s bid to host the company’s second global headquarters, Amazon.com Inc. says it will hire an additional 600 tech workers in the city’s downtown core.
The Seattle-based e-commerce and cloud-services giant, which earlier this year hit a US$1-trillion market capitalization before a sector-wide price rout sent its value down, announced the hiring plan as it gave tours of a new 113,000-square-foot office space in the Scotia Plaza tower. Its five floors already contain 300 employees, largely working in advertising, Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and in human-resources technology. The additional employees will be split between Scotia Plaza and its existing office on Bremner Boulevard, home to its local Amazon Web Services (AWS) team, although the company did not provide a timeline for the hiring.
“Between the diverse work force, the incredibly skilled work force we have in the city, and world-class universities like U of T and Waterloo – when you put that all together, this is a tech hub we really wanted to invest in,” Tamir Bar-Haim, Amazon’s Toronto site lead, said in an interview.
The hiring announcements come at the end of a major year for global tech companies investing in and moving into Toronto. The Microsoft Corp. Canadian headquarters is headed to the city’s core from Mississauga in 2020; Intel set up a North York graphics-chip engineering lab in September; and Ottawa’s Shopify Inc. is planning to invest a half-billion dollars and hire thousands of new employees when it consolidates its offices in a new complex to open in 2022. Other global firms are setting up shops to snap up Toronto’s artificial-intelligence talent, including Uber Technologies Inc. and LG Electronics Inc.
Amazon has more than 12,000 workers in Canada, including about 800 tech-based employees in Toronto and 2,000 in its four “fulfilment centres,” or warehouses, near the city. The company said Monday it plans to open a new distribution centre in Leduc County, just south of Edmonton, with plans to create 600 full-time jobs by 2020.
Toronto was shortlisted for Amazon’s second global headquarters, dubbed “HQ2,” but was widely considered an unlikely candidate, in part because it did not propose any company-specific tax breaks. New York and Washington ultimately won a split-down-the-middle HQ2, offering a combined US$2-billion in incentives.
Mr. Bar-Haim said Toronto’s bid “certainly helped” in deciding to hire more tech workers in the city. “We were very impressed with the proposal,” he said. The public document highlighted Toronto’s diversity, the region’s abundance of skilled workers, and potential cost savings through lower salaries and Canadian health care.
The new hires will work in advertising, on its web services and in engineering roles for Amazon’s fulfilment technology and Alexa voice service. Mr. Bar-Haim said the Toronto-based Alexa team, less than 18 months old, "is not only working on building out Alexa and our voice ecosystem here in Canada, they’re creating features and functionality that will support our customers all around the world. And so it’s inspiring to see what they’re working on. A lot of it we can’t share today and will become public in the coming months.”
While Amazon did not attach a dollar figure to the hiring announcement, the company said it has invested more than $3-billion in Canada since 2011.
The recent influx of foreign tech companies has pushed some Canadian technology leaders to raise warning signs. “With nearly 220,000 tech jobs in Canada set to sit vacant by 2021, any ‘job creation’ announcement in the tech sector is in fact a job-shuffling activity, as unemployment in Canadian tech is zero per cent,” Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said in an e-mailed statement.
The group represents more than 100 Canadian tech companies, and has regularly signalled discontent with politicians’ celebrations of foreign multinational tech companies’ investments in Canada – with some members arguing that the country should instead try to build the next Amazon. Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and local MP Adam Vaughan were on hand Tuesday to herald Amazon’s announcement.
“Skilled talent is jet-fuel for high-growth companies, but without increasing the pool of skilled talent that domestic scaling technology firms have access to and designing an innovation strategy for Ontario, the increasing presence of large multi-nationals will continue to negatively impact Canadian firms’ ability to scale-up globally,” Mr. Bergen wrote.