Leon County commissioners press for answers on Amazon’s delayed fulfillment center

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Several county commissioners want Amazon to provide an update on its delayed fulfilment center in Tallahassee, hiring status and other matters during this month’s board retreat.

In a Jan. 4 letter to Commission Chairman Nick Maddox and the board, Commissioner Bill Proctor asked for an Amazon representative to be invited to the board retreat Jan. 23 at Parkview at Cascades, next door to the AC Hotel.

He’s been less than pleased with how little information the company has provided while building the massive robotic fulfillment center on Mahan Drive near Interstate 10, despite swarms of support by elected and business officials for the $200-million project tagged to be the greatest job creator by the private sector in Tallahassee’s history.

To match the historic moment, Amazon received a $2.56 million incentive package to further secure the company’s interest in the capital city − the largest incentive ever given. While conditional, the incentive represents tax credits given over time to Amazon once the company fulfils its job creation commitment.

Proctor, who serves on the Intergovernmental Agency Board made up of city and county commissioners who approved the incentives, said he feels like a “corporate concubine.”

“We gave money to court them on a blind date, and we were told that this would eventually become transparent,” Proctor told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’ve found that it’s no more transparent than when we were first told to put the blindfold on, go on the blind date and trust our staff.”

He and other commissioners would like a detailed update regarding Amazon’s fulfilment center, preferably given by a company representative.

“We haven’t seen the whites of their eyeballs. Who do you give $2 million to and you don’t even meet them,” said Proctor, adding he doesn’t recall an Amazon official ever being present at a county commission or public meeting.

In a Jan. 6 article, the Democrat detailed how little is known about Amazon’s plans to begin hiring for the fulfillment center, despite reports of the exterior construction being being complete roughly two months ago.

The article includes interviews with officials from the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality, Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and Tallahassee Community College − all three having direct exchanges or partnerships with Amazon in various capacities − but no clear answers on when the company plans to open the site or begin hiring.

Proctor said he wants to know four main things:

  • the level of minority-owned, women-owned business participation as subcontractors on the project,
  • the hiring timeline, recruitment and outreach plan,
  • the company’s position on making Tallahassee residents the preference for potential employees,
  • and how the company may be able to alleviate poverty in the 32304 zip code, the poorest zip code in the state.

Approximately 59,000 Amazon employees work in Florida, and that number is expected to reach 60,000 once Tallahassee’s fulfilment center is operational.

The local uncertainty comes as Amazon downshifts its growth strategy. Last month, the company announced plans to layoff 10,000 employees and that number swelled to 18,000 – roughly 6 percent of Amazon’s corporate workforce – when the company reported on Jan. 4 “the difficult decision to eliminate additional roles.” The mega online retailed also halted some projects stateside and this week announced it was closing three United Kingdom warehouses.

As the world’s largest e-commerce company continues to make national headlines, the call for answers at the local level grows louder. Amazon had originally planned to open the Tallahassee site before the 2022 holiday season.

County Commissioner David O’Keefe said he “absolutely” supports an update regarding Amazon at the upcoming board retreat.

“I’m looking forward to hopefully an Amazon representative coming to the board retreat or a board meeting, because we are putting up a significant amount of taxpayer resources and incentives,” O’Keefe said. “The delay we’ve seen from the original plan, which may or may not be out of their control or a reasonable delay, we are a major stakeholder in their project and we would like to know more about what’s going on.”

County Commissioner Christian Caban said he’s pleased to see Amazon’s presence in Tallahassee, adding he thinks the company will be “good for our community and it will help create jobs.”

When asked whether he’d want an Amazon representative at the County Commission’s upcoming retreat if possible, he said, “without a doubt.”

“In regard to having representation from Amazon, I think that’s a no brainer,” Caban said. “I think it helps create a lot of communication for county staff, commissioners and Amazon, so we can make sure our people in our community are having equal representation and a seat at the table.”

While Amazon’s decision to downsize its staff companywide continues to play out, there’s been no public information provided to discern whether Tallahassee’s fulfilment center may be impacted or when it will open.

Caban said he’s not concerned about recent reports of Amazon’s personnel reductions. The last two years, he said, was an economic boom for companies like Amazon that saw surging demand during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic amid shutdowns.

Yet he wants to see Amazon make good on its plans to spur major job growth in Tallahassee.

“I think what we’re seeing right now is a little bit of what I would call stabilizing in the market,” Caban said. “Interest rates coming up a little bit. House prices across the country coming down a little bit. But it’s our job as commissioners to hold them accountable to their promise to our community.”

Commissioner Rick Minor said Amazon has made a significant investment in this community. While he’d be “fine with an update” at the upcoming retreat, he’s not pushing for one at this time.

“From my standpoint, the sooner we add 1,000 jobs the better,” Minor said. “I hope Amazon’s fulfillment center will open soon but of course that’s up to Amazon on when that will happen.”

Contact Reporter TaMaryn Waters at tlwaters@tallahassee.com.