Delayed delivery: Amazon ‘hoping to launch’ Tallahassee fulfillment center in 2023

From Tallahassee Democrat

The multi-million dollar question on when Amazon will begin its hiring blitz to generate 1,000 new jobs in Tallahassee is still a mystery.

According to one person close to the project, exterior construction work wrapped up nearly two months ago for the $200 million, 635,000-square-foot robotics fulfillment center off Mahan Drive near Interstate 10.

Yet, the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality, business groups and institutions with direct access and budding partnerships with the world’s largest e-commerce retailer can’t say when the company will begin hiring or when the facility will open.

Despite multiple inquiries, Amazon has been tightlipped about its hiring approach and timeline. But, on Wednesday at a press conference at Savour Restaurant in downtown Tallahassee, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter questioned an Amazon official, who was on hand to discuss a corporate sponsorship with Tallahassee Community College.

Amazon will be a lead corporate sponsor for TCC’s upcoming Cleaver and Cork celebrity chef fundraising event. TCC was approved to be a Career Choice Program School, which allows Amazon workers to further their education in specific areas offered at various schools across the country.

“Amazon’s commitment is to put people into those programs, pay their tuition and fees in order to earn those credentials, which will benefit Amazon and benefit (employees),” TCC President Jim Murdaugh said.

When asked when Amazon plans to begin hiring in Tallahassee, Murdaugh said, “I do not know” and deferred that question to Cristal Cole, the company’s regional policy manager for the Southeastern U.S., who attended the event.

But, when asked about Amazon’s hiring plans, Cole didn’t offer many details.  

“We’ll be looking to do some of that later this year in 2023,” she told the Democrat. “We’re hoping to launch this year in 2023. As we near our launch date, we’ll take a look at starting that process.”

‘A moving target’ as Amazon downshifts growth strategy, lays off employees

Amazon initially planned to open the Tallahassee site in time for the 2022 holiday season, which has come and gone.

Cole could not explain the delay but said she would check with her colleagues.

Amid rising inflation, a battered stock price and the looming possibility of a recession, the company has throttled its growth strategy. In December, media outlets reported that the mega-retailer would lay off about 10,000 employees. That number rose to 18,000 – roughly 6 percent of Amazon’s corporate workforce – when the company reported Wednesday “the difficult decision to eliminate additional roles.”

“Amazon has weathered uncertain and difficult economies in the past, and we will continue to do so,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy wrote in a blog post. “These changes will help us pursue our long-term opportunities with a stronger cost structure; however, I’m also optimistic that we’ll be inventive, resourceful, and scrappy in this time when we’re not hiring expansively and eliminating some roles.”

The cuts will primarily hit the company’s corporate workforce and is not expected to affect hourly warehouse workers.

The company, despite rapid expansion across Florida and the country, was forced to close or cancel dozens of planned last-mile delivery stations across the country last year as well as 11 larger regional fulfillment centers and two planned air hub/sortation centers, according to Marc Wulfraat, a Quebec, Canada-based global logistics consultant with MWPVL International Inc.

However, Amazon still plans to generate 1,000 new jobs at its Tallahassee-based site, said Keith Bowers, who heads the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality. Of that number, Bowers said 50 to 100 are slated for management positions.

But he couldn’t say when Amazon will open its Tallahassee facility. When asked about Amazon’s projected opening date, he said, “That is a moving target at this point.”

What the Amazon ‘big push’ will look like

In an email exchange within the last two months, Bowers said Amazon indicated plans to open in early 2023 but no other details beyond that.

“They start their hiring activities 90 days prior to opening, and they are unclear right now as to the exact time they plan to open,” Bowers said. “We’re waiting to hear back from them on some definitive dates. They have been in constant communication. Every time we’ve asked for something, they’ve given us as much information as they could.”

Once Amazon activates the hiring phase, Bowers said the company will begin the hiring process with interviews, job fairs and public announcements about various positions that will be open.

“So, that’s when they’re going to do a big push,” Bowers said.

OEV’s role in the hiring process will be getting the word out and helping to connect Amazon with local resources and groups with a talent pipeline. He said some of those groups include CareerSource Capital Region and TalentHub, an initiative through the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

While the concept goes by different names across the country, the Tallahassee-based is a platform that connects jobseekers with training, job leads and other resources with employers searching for qualified applicants.

It’s open to any employer to use, including Amazon, said Corrie Melton, the Chamber’s vice president of membership and talent development.

“We use it as a way to connect them directly to local people,” Melton said. “Even though it is a platform across the country, our TalentHub specific platform is really localized … We set it up so that it would be eight-county region served by the United Way of the Big Bend.”

Tallahassee can look to other cities and see how Amazon uses similar platforms in other cities when its recruiting. For example, in Macon, Georgia, Melton said the company posted job listings on through the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce.

As of Wednesday, Melton said Amazon had not yet posted any job listings on TalentHub, adding, “It’s my understanding they are not ready to start hiring yet.”