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Amazon in Winnipeg?


Late last week, Amazon put word out that they're starting to look for a city to locate a second headquarters.  The fuel this announcement provides has the hype train in Winnipeg going so fast, it's missing stops.

I'm curious though.  As you've been digesting this exciting news, who have you spoken or listened to?
Was it this guy and his party's historic theft of public infrastructure (pdf) and incompetence with digital strategy? Or how about this guy, who maintains that Winnipeg doesn't need a proper rapid transit option?  You know, the kind that might actually catch the eye of handsome Amazon who now has Winnipeg trying to be the belle of the ball.

Transit "system", Peggo glitches are free - thanks @infidelatheist

Runner up articles are Winnipeg's inability to join the 21st centry on active transport and the compounding of the aforementioned digital strategy mistakes.

Stop Listening to These Guys

They are not technology experts. At worst, they're unabashed self promoters. At best they're conduits for very bad policy on behalf of the companies that helped market them into power.
To be fair, all mayors of large cities in Canada are tapping their tired "Why we're great" scripts.
Anyone boosting Winnipeg as a good candidate for Amazon's new headquarters has no clue about the kind of business Amazon really is.

Here's Calgary's Nahneed Nenshi using his script. At least their rapid transit map is of a train and more than three stops.

I'll give an honourable mention to Edmonton's Don Iveson whose calm and frankly empathetic tone was refreshing.  Amazon wants somewhere they can hire technology experts, and he knows this.

Other cities like Halifax are heard to be interested, and I haven't even mentioned Kitchener/Waterloo or Montreal.  But who cares?  The established and far more recognized folks in Ontario are already tapping their sprawling resources.

If we can't figure it out for ourselves, take it from the Americans who might know a thing or two about this.

"Oh."

It sucks, because I'm one of the few who would benefit from a large tech company being present in any city I live in.  Especially one where I'm already established.
I contribute to open source projects, I code as a day job and as a hobby.  I've presented at Prairie Dev Con, ran the now (sadly) dormant Winnipeg PHP user group and have presented twice for Microsoft earlier this year.

If I'm wrong about this, I'll gladly own it because every developer in Winnipeg will get a free upgrade to all their local prospects.  I yearn for a globally tech-relevant Winnipeg, but with the current players, I have a difficult time seeing it happen.  None of the people advocating in our community are developers, it's all middle managers and salespeople trying to level-up to executive status.  Just like in the Bloomberg article above, politics is literally a factor - and believe me, Winnipeg is a tiny and pure crystal of the toxicity of politics.

Nobody would be happier than me to see them come.  But they won't, because Winnipeg doesn't even move the needle on any of the factors they are after.
CBRE Tech Labor Pool (thanks @gregmorrow)

I've spent the last few years watching businesses and talent flee to Europe and the U.S. or at best start working remotely for pay nobody is willing to match locally.  It's even something my wife and I have discussed, but have deferred due to many personal factors.

Despite what you may think, I'm very loyal to Winnipeg and would love to see it succeed.  But on merit, not on bluster.

If I was Amazon

Assuming something was driving me to locate North of the border, I'd most likely choose Toronto.

  • As a company that relies on the internet, I would want to be as close as possible to physical internet backbones.  For a company as subject to volume as Amazon, I would be more comfortable eliminating the politics of Canadian telecommunications as a risk to my business.
  • A partner of "mine" - you might have heard of them - is based out of Ontario and maintains an office in Toronto.
  • Other businesses are attracting talent to Toronto and my presence would be an effective multiplier to any economy I'm joining.  Therefore, maximize the gains by picking an already functional talent pool.
  • While I'm alright with conceding that Winnipeg has been improving over the past few years, it's mostly in spite of itself. The general influence of the industry is driving change around the world and any city that tries to take credit for that is probably too out of touch.
  • Not all developers will work for my company.  Not all developers can work for my company.  Attracting talent to any city is an uphill battle facing constant attrition. I need to pick somewhere that can help me outpace that attrition.
  • Quality, not quantity. Any developers I hire have to actually be good and understand how to write code that can be deployed and that can scale.  Not code as-the-crow-flies.

Introspection

Let's put aside the somewhat valid but all too common complaint about us having cold winters.  Let's put aside our rapid transit and other infrastructure woes.

I'm not sure if anyone has thought of this, but if you're more of a buy-local type, you should know that a company like Amazon would be ruinous to existing companies in the city.  We can barely deal with pressure from Skip the Dishes and other national giants like iQmetrix.

If you want to talk about the talent pool, it's true that Winnipeg has produced some great software developers. Active discussions in local user groups here in Winnipeg are made up of a few of the most talented and vocal of them.  The problem?  The list of participants who are now expats continues to grow.
Idle chatter sometimes gets into how so few of the developers in Winnipeg actually treat their jobs as knowledge work.  We are normalized to mistakes on a level that's considered common sense to avoid in the rest of the world.  This gets to the quality not quantity point in my list above.

Culturally, Winnipeg is a city that needs to get a lot better at being critical of itself and getting the right results.  It's funny, as even a post like this will be seen by many as disloyal and blasphemous.  But I'd ask those people to imagine themselves a few months from now after the decision is made and the dust has settled.

If I brought up everything I'm bringing up here again, would they, the mayor and premiere change their ways?

I'm not holding out a hope.

We have an embarrassing history of commissioning fact-making studies, usually to serve the corruption in our municipal and provincial representation.  We silence people who try to speak out and we bully people who try to raise our past mistakes as guides on how to act today.  It's so bad, this cult like egoism and inertia serves as a point against Winnipeg in my previous section.

If Winnipeg was in the business of actually planning for the future, maybe our talk about being a good city for Amazon would be true.  But to say that Winnipeg is a good candidate and deserving of their consideration is just attention-seeking dishonesty.

We've done nothing to deserve them.

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