N. Virginia, Toronto join chase to land e-commerce giant

The Canadian federal government’s fast-tracking of visas for high-skilled workers and northern Virginia’s weather yesterday were touted as reasons why Amazon.com Inc. should look beyond Boston for its second North American headquarters location.

Toronto-area municipalities yesterday formally announced a regional bid for the online retail giant’s estimated $5 billion “HQ2” project expected to eventually grow to 50,000 workers. Amazon already has 2 million-plus square feet of space in the region and nearly 1,000 workers.

The 400,000-worker Toronto regional tech ecosystem last year increased by 25,000 jobs — more than New York and San Francisco combined, according to Mark Cohon, chairman of Toronto Global, which is leading the regional bid.

“Like Boston, we have amazing access to talent with our universities, but one of our secret weapons is we are one of the global hubs for artificial technology with the Vector Institute and the University of Toronto,” Cohon said. And, he noted, “We have a very welcoming federal government that allows fast-tracking of visas for people around the world.”

Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world; 51 percent of the region’s citizens are foreign-born, Cohon said. “That creates a very dynamic cultural … and creative environment to be in,” he said.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that several top Amazon executives favored landing “HQ2” in Boston, citing its proximity to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nonstop flights to Seattle and Washington, D.C., and lower cost of living than some other big cities. Amazon, meanwhile, said there were no front-runners.

Northern Virginia’s Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties also are making strong Amazon pushes.

“We have much better weather than Boston,” said Bobbie Kilberg, CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Northern Virginia also has lots of land, the highest educated population per capita in the country, a high number of information technology workers, and great schools and research universities, Kilberg said.

“We are a right-to-work state, and that’s very important for Amazon,” she said. “And we have a low tax rate.”

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