After attracting $1.347 billion in foreign direct investment in 2016, and helping to bring Facebook, Samsung and Google-affiliate DeepMind to Montreal this year, Montréal International is now trying to attract Amazon.
Things are going well for Montréal International, the economic development agency tasked with encouraging foreign direct investment in the Montreal region.
Since September, Facebook, Samsung, DeepMind (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet), IBM and Thales have all opened new offices in Montreal or announced plans to do so.
Things are happening in the city, said Hubert Bolduc, Montréal International’s president and CEO.
“You’ve got $4 or $5 billion in infrastructure investments happening in Montreal, you’ve got the (Réseau électrique métropolitain), you’ve got buildings growing everywhere, you’ve got 12 hotels that are under construction, there’s never been as many tourists in Montreal,” he said. “There’s a hype about Montreal.”
2016 was a record year for Bolduc’s organization, Montréal International helped attract $1.347 billion in foreign direct investment — when companies from other countries set up or acquire operations here — up from $1 billion the year before.
In 2016, it also doubled the share of that investment coming from the United States to more than $600 million.
Now, Montréal International is hoping to attract Amazon’s second headquarters.
The online retail giant’s high-profile search for a city to host what it calls “HQ2” has attracted 238 proposals from across North America. Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary have all made bids — as have numerous cities in the U.S., and a handful in Mexico.
The company plans to spend $5 billion on the new facility, which will eventually employ 50,000 people.
While much of Montreal’s bid is being kept secret — Amazon requested the bids be confidential — Bolduc said the biggest thing Montreal offers is skilled workers.
“We have the local talent, we have the capacity to attract international talent and that talent, overall, comes in at a very affordable price, so it’s less expensive to hire engineers, lawyers, accountants, tax advisors here in Montreal than it is in comparable cities in North America,” Bolduc said.
The cost of doing business in Montreal is between 20 and 25 per cent less than in other major North American cities, he said. Along with wages, real estate prices, the cost of energy and corporate tax rates are lower here.
There’s also a basket of tax credits, though Bolduc won’t say what’s on the table beyond the standard range of credits that are available to any company.
Quebec’s immigration policies are also attractive, he said, particularly in comparison to the U.S.
Even though Amazon is an American company, Bolduc sees language as a selling point, not a challenge.
“Amazon is a multinational, they need to have access to the most multilingual talent possible, Montreal is the most trilingual city in Canada and probably North America,” he said.
There are also 2.5 million English speakers in the Montreal region, said Christian Bernard, Montréal International’s chief economist and its vice-president of Economic Affairs and Marketing Communication.
That’s more English speakers than in Vancouver, he said.
Companies from English-speaking countries are already setting up shop here, two-thirds of all foreign direct investment in Montreal comes from the U.S. or the United Kingdom, Bolduc said.
While the decision about HQ2 won’t be announced until the new year, Montreal has already become more attractive to U.S. tech companies.
“It’s incredible, the buzz about Montreal,” said Mark Maclean, Montréal International’s director of business development for the West Coast.
That wasn’t the case two years ago, he said, back then Montreal had a reputation in certain sectors “but there was no real buzz about it. Since then, it’s been unbelievable.”
It’s even visible at the airport, Bolduc said.
“10 years ago, Montreal had only 35 direct links abroad, you know how many the have today? Almost 90,” he said. Toronto has 95. “A year from now, we’ll have as many direct flights to other international cities as Toronto.”
By the numbers:
Cities bidding for Amazon HQ2: 238
Expected employment at HQ2: 50,000
How much Amazon plans to spend: $5 billion
Foreign direct investment in Montreal in 2016: $1.347 billion
Number of jobs created or maintained by foreign direct investment in 2016: 3,240