Amazon offers glimpse into Tallahassee’s fulfillment center, talent approach at Chamber event

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sue Dick on Wednesday asked for a show of hands for anyone who’d received an Amazon package to their home or business in the last week.

Hundreds of hands rose during the Chamber’s Annual Breakfast Meeting. It was a fitting introduction for keynote speaker Sam Blatt, Amazon’s economic development policy manager — the man charged with ensuring Tallahassee’s new fulfillment center under construction is moving forward.

His remarks offered a glimpse behind Amazon’s suite of services: logistics, creative content, retail and technology.

Since 2010, Amazon has hired more than 59,000 employees in Florida. Tallahassee will add another 1,000 jobs once complete. Amazon operates 13 fulfillment centers in statewide; Tallahassee’s facility will be the 14th.

For nearly 30 minutes, Blatt offered a glimpse behind the world’s largest e-commerce business now in Tallahassee’s backyard with at least two known facilities in the works.

The first one, initially called “Project Mango,” is a massive 635,000-square-foot robotics fulfillment center off Mahan Drive near Interstate 10 that’s estimated to cost $200 million.

While Amazon did not lay out a timeframe on when it would begin hiring, the company plans to produce approximately 1,000 full-time jobs, in addition to seasonal and part-time positions, and become the largest private sector job creator in Tallahassee’s history.

“We have a lot of fulfillment centers around the country. We go to a lot of different communities and speak to a lot of different groups,” Blatt said. “I have to say, and I’m not just saying this because I’m here in front of you, Tallahassee has been incredible. Tallahassee has been very hospitable and welcoming.”

Less is publicly known about the second facility, Project Cyprus, a 123,115-square-foot warehouse building on roughly 50 acres on the southside of Northwest Passage off Capital Circle Northwest near Home Depot. Property records indicate Amazon purchased parcels for $3.8 million.

Founded in 1994, Blatt touched on the company’s “obsession” with customer service and mentioned Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s famed tagline: It’s all about the customer.

“The customer is the most important thing. So everything we do at Amazon, we do it by working backwards from the customer and trying to fulfil their needs,” Blatt said. “That’s why we have tons of products on our website that people can get from two hours to two days.”

With that in mind, Blatt said the company wants to apply a similar approach for its effort to become the world’s best employer.

A lofty goal, Blatt admitted, adding it’s not something the company has achieved yet. He said it will require changes on how Amazon operates, including wages and full benefits.

Another incentive is Amazon’s Career Choice Program, which allows an associate after 90 days of employment to be eligible for full pre-paid tuition in a variety of fields, including plumbing, HVAC or advanced four-year nursing degree programs.

“Not only are we offering good paying jobs with good benefits, we have a built in talent development engine for employees at this location,” Blatt said. “That’s something I think is really exciting, and we’re actually raising the caliber of talent in the workforce. We realize that not everyone wants to work in a warehouse for their entire career.”

“I’m sure a lot of you also understand that, too. It’s hard to find good talent,” Blatt told the audience. “Good talent is competitive, and right now it’s a buyer’s market if you’re looking for a job … it’s a situation now where we are trying to attract employees and make it a great experience.”

Tallahassee city leaders excited for Amazon and the jobs it’s bringing

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox was pleased to hear Amazon’s plans for Tallahassee, including its plans to be a community partner, environmental protection efforts with solar power and maintaining 30 acres of greenspace at the Tallahassee facility and workforce plans.

She also applauded Amazon’s approach toward health benefits for full-time employee as another benefit for local residents with a minimum of a high school diploma or GED.

“I think it was a great introduction to who Amazon really is, beyond just who delivers our boxes,” she said. “I think what Amazon did here today was to help our business community continue to grow, which is what we want.”

While Amazon is positioned to be Tallahassee’s largest job creator in the private sector, it’s bound to have an impact on the local labor pool. Some see Amazon’s impact as a catalyst to attract more residents to work in Tallahassee, including those living outside of Leon County.

Others say local businesses, in an effort to compete, will need to adjust their operations and wages to “match the moment,” Williams-Cox said.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said Amazon is part of the capital city’s overall plan for building and retaining talent and said Tallahassee “will rise to the occasion” when asked about workforce and labor impacts created by the world’s largest e-commerce company.

“I love to hear the message from the Chamber this morning about how we have to come together as a community to be able to move forward,” Dailey said. “I think everybody gets it … We all want Tallahassee to succeed. The workforce issue is a great challenge to have, but I know that we will overcome it.”