October 26th, 2020

Business Beat: What National Landing, Virginia can teach Medicine Hat, Alberta

By Jon Sookocheff on April 10, 2019.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Holly Sullivan, director of worldwide economic development at Amazon, and Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, speak about Amazon’s decision to locate a second corporate headquarters in National Landing, Virginia.

When Amazon decided in 2017 to create a $5 billion second corporate headquarters with 50,000 jobs, Holly was the person entrusted with leading the team that shaped Amazon’s evaluation of the 238 bids received from cities, counties and states across North America, which included 11 bids from Canada.

Stephen’s claim to fame is that he led Virginia’s successful state-and-local team bid for Amazon’s HQ2, which included launching a world-class, custom workforce program along with the Virginia Community College System.

Throughout their talk, Holly and Stephen highlighted the critical success factors that resulted in Amazon selecting Virginia for HQ2. Above all, they spoke about the importance of talent availability, workforce development, and state and local collaboration as critical to the success of Virginia’s proposal.

In order to attract Amazon, Virginia made a long-term commitment to education and transportation infrastructure to ensure a strong and talented workforce, a stable and competitive business climate, and a world-class higher education system.

Interestingly, Holly and Stephen spent very little time talking about Amazon’s recent decision to cancel plans for a third headquarters in New York City, where the company faced intense backlash from local lawmakers, unions and citizens.

In a statement Amazon said, “The commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term… a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”

So, what does Amazon’s decision to locate one headquarters in northern Virginia, while cancelling another headquarters in New York City, have to tell us about investment attraction initiatives at home in Medicine Hat?

First, it was clear from Holly and Stephen’s conversation that successful investment attraction requires an open and collaborative response from community leaders at all levels of government. Above all, investors seek political stability and economic competitiveness from the jurisdictions in which they choose to invest.

Second, Holly and Stephen stressed the importance of Virginia’s highly skilled workforce as the defining success factor for Amazon. Virginia’s readily available technology talent, combined with strong support for higher education and workforce development, is what ultimately sealed the deal for Amazon in Virginia.

In the end, Holly and Stephen made it clear that when a company like Amazon chooses to invest in a city like National Landing, it requires the support and acceptance of the entire community, most importantly the existing and future pool of available talent, without which no company can succeed on the global stage.

Jon Sookocheff is interim CEO of Invest Medicine Hat. He can be reached at http://www.InvestMedicineHat.ca.

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