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Posted: November 18, 2017

Did Cranbrook miss the opportunity of the century?

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Did Cranbrook miss the business opportunity of the century? Sadly, it looks like we did.

How’s that you say? What did we do this time? Actually, we didn’t do anything and that’s just the point. While the rest of the business world was buzzing about the opportunity to gain thousands of new jobs – 50,000 to be exact – and applications were flooding in from all over North America, we sat on our hands and did nothing.

And poof! Just like that we lost the golden opportunity that several other Canadian cities took advantage of because the deadline expired Oct. 19 and there was no application from the Key City. We effectively said “no” to the second richest man in the world and the man many consider to be the world’s smartest businessman. And all those high-paying jobs evaporated into the thin air over Mt. Fisher.

I’m referring, of course, to the building of Amazon’s new headquarters, or HQ2 as it’s more accurately known. Now, it will go elsewhere and so will all those jobs to one of the 238 cities that applied for it, including one not much bigger than Cranbrook. My message to City Hall? You gotta think big to get ahead in business or to create employment or to impress Amazon President Jeff Bezos.

That’s why Stonecrest, Georgia, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains, applied and offered to donate 345 acres to the project and rename itself Amazon City, if it won the bid. If you think that’s crazy, Calgary also applied and offered to change its name to “Calmazon” or “Amagary” and spray painted the names on several city sidewalks to impress Amazon. A tad tacky even for Cowtown, don’t you think?

But when it comes to impressing Amazon anything goes as cities all over North America lust for the golden ring in a bidding war that spans the continent. Philadelphia offered Amazon three sites spanning 28 million square feet of city real estate; Newark, New Jersey offered $7 billion in tax breaks. New York emphasized its status as the financial capital of the world and Toronto said it would be a safer place to live than any American city for Amazon’s 50,000 new employees. Vancouver said it was the closest city to Whistler.

Despite all these entreaties, serious or otherwise, Amazon said only cities of a million or more, with deep technical talent pools, great airline connections, rapid public transit systems and a high quality of cultural and civic life need apply. Using these criteria, about 20 American cities including New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco are top candidates while Toronto and Vancouver are considered long shots if Amazon decides to move out of its comfort zone.

But just for fun, what about Cranbrook? We don’t have a million people thank God, but we have a decent airport with an 8,000 ft. runway that easily accommodates business-size jets. We have a city bus system though none too rapid. We have technical talent and would certainly welcome more, especially at the US$100,000 annual salary Amazon pays. As for our quality of cultural and civic life, that may prove a bit problematic. We do have a symphony and great amateur theatre. Mt. Baker Secondary School regularly turns out amazing musical talent and there’s always Fort Steele and the Cranbrook History Centre, formerly known as the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a civic art gallery because city council decided our former heritage fire hall would be better recycled as a beer hall than an art gallery but then again some of those well-to-do Amazon employees might enjoy relaxing with a brew or two after a hard day working for the world’s third biggest retailer. (0nly Walmart and Alibaba in China are bigger.)

And when you consider that not a single industry of significant size (more than 50 employees) has developed in Cranbrook in the last 20 years, it might be good to keep in mind what Bezos once said: “What’s dangerous is not to evolve.” And if this makes you want to attack the messenger, as so often is the case in this town, keep in mind what else Bezos said: “If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting.”

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who once ordered a book from Amazon

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