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Sault's Amazon bid committee buckles down

Proposed Sault location to be selected this week from shortlist of five properties
Sault Ste. Marie's Amazon bid committee held its first formal meeting today. Composite photo by David Helwig/SooToday

Sault Ste. Marie, it seems, has a secret weapon in its bid to entice e-commerce giant Amazon to build its second headquarters here.

"Terry Sheehan put us in touch with someone who works at," Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker was saying today at the Civic Centre.

"He's got a Sault connection. He's Jim Boniferro's nephew," Shoemaker confided.

Through Northern Ontario-style friend-of-a-friend networking, the city has now established direct contact with the Amazon team overseeing the online retailer's request for proposals for a 55,000-employee second North American headquarters.

"We are down that road, in terms of having someone at Amazon that we can talk to, by way of a Sault connection," Shoemaker said.

The dozen Saultites tasked with catching the attention of the world's largest online retailer rolled up their sleeves this afternoon and started in on the heavy lifting.

Here's who was at the table at the Amazon bid committee's first formal meeting:

  • Mayor Christian Provenzano
  • Nuala Kenny, city solicitor
  • Malcolm White, city clerk, deputy chief administrative officer
  • Al Horsman, city chief administrative officer
  • Ward 6 Councillor Ozzie Grandinetti
  • Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker
  • Ward 2 Councillor Susan Myers
  • Don Elliott, city director of engineering services
  • John Prgomet, business development manager, Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre
  • Dan Hollingsworth, executive director business development, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp.
  • Nevin Buconjic, manager of trade, investment and community marketing, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp.
  • Don McConnell, city director planning and enterprise services

EDC's Dan Hollingsworth said that much of the information requested by Amazon has already been assembled "from various activities that we've undertaken over the last couple years."

"We have 70 to 75 per cent of that information," Hollingsworth said.

EDC has looked at five 100-acre-plus properties that might interest Amazon.

"We will have one of the sites selected by later this week."

As for government incentives, Hollingsworth said EDC has already reached out to both the provincial and federal governments.

He expects to hear back from Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development and Growth later this week on what the province can offer to communities bidding on the Amazon package.

"Our expectation is that we would receive the same as any other community in Ontario," Hollingsworth said,

Similarly, he expects to hear later in the week from FedNor on what the Canadian government can chip in.

After that, it will be up to City Council to decide what deal-sweeteners the municipality can provide.

In the past few days, city officials initiated discussions with the Michigan Soo's city manager and economic development authority.

A cross-border meeting is expected to take place either later this week or early next week.

The 24 strands of 'dark' fibre-optic cable that connect the twin cities across the International Bridge are expected to be a major selling point to Amazon.

Councillor Shoemaker talked about one suggestion he received from a resident: that the Twin Saults submit their bid in an Amazon shipping carton.

"It depends on what we think," he said. "Is it too much cheese? I don't think it's a bad idea, but I think it's worth looking at."

City solicitor Nuala Kenny pointed out that Amazon probably already has much of the data it's asking for in its request for proposals.

"There's no way that Amazon has not already gone fishing." Kenny said.

"They're already aware of what cities have excellent post-secondary, they're already aware what population bases look like. Beyond just responding to their questions to which I suspect they already know the answers, I think it's important that we have something a little magical."

"KISS played in Sault Ste. Marie. There's no reason why KISS should have played in Sault Ste. Marie. We're way too small, We have a tiny venue. But Gene Simmons is a brilliant marketer and he does his own marketing, his own production."

"That was done by way of a vote that showed that the community really wanted KISS to come. And they came. Maybe community involvement isn't part of the soft-sell. Maybe it's the hard sell," Kenny advised.

"That's a good idea," replied Shoemaker.

"Yup," said Councillor Myers, apparently softening her unflattering 2009 description of Gene Simmons' "farewell tour."

Myers asked about the confidentiality of the city's bid and was told that Amazon will treat the material submitted to it as private, but after the bid deadline the city will likely be free to do with the submission as it pleases.

She called for an all-out social media campaign to persuade non-bidding cities across Ontario to support the Sault's bid.

"Some of the folks out there that are naysayers, they have no idea what we have to offer."

"One of the best outcomes of all of this, short of getting it, will be to educate our own community on what we have," Myers said.

"If they can see it, they're going to be like: 'Oh, Matt Shoemaker isn't such a nut after all.’"

"You just wrote David Helwig's headline," Mayor Provenzano quipped.