Pending the successful negotiation of a local and state incentives package over the next few days, Amazon.com could be coming to Bradley and Hamilton counties while bringing as many as 1,400 jobs with it in two distribution centers.
Total investment of the two complexes would be approximately $164 million, according to a string of announcements made Monday night by Gov. Phil Bredesen, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
The Seattle, Wash.-based company’s interest in the pair of fulfillment centers in Southeast Tennessee has been rumored for weeks but confidentiality agreements have prevented local, state, Chamber and economic development officials from publicly identifying it by name.
If incentives are approved this week by the Chattanooga City Council and Hamilton County Commission, and then next Monday by the Bradley County Commission, the region could see the start-up of construction of both plants within a month.
As previously reported by the Cleveland Daily Banner, the Bradley County plant would sit on a 116-acre parcel in the southeast quadrant of the intersection formed by Lauderdale Memorial Highway (SR 308) and Interstate 75 in the county’s northern sector. The site is located near I-75 Exit 33 adjacent to an existing distribution center operated by General Electric.
Investment in the local plant, scheduled to be a 1 million square-foot facility, would total $63.1 million. The company projects full-time employment of approximately 226 people and the possibility of an additional 600 to 800 temporary jobs in peak seasons. Direct annual payroll for the full-time jobs would be about $8.1 million.
Workers’ average salaries could be about $32,000 per year.
The Hamilton County fulfillment center, proposed for construction in the Enterprise South Industrial Park, is also pegged to be a 1 million square-foot facility. It is expected to employ some 1,200 full-time workers.
Although the Bradley and Hamilton fulfillment centers are similar in size, the difference in the number of employees is reportedly based on the types of products distributed. The Hamilton County center would reportedly handle smaller products while the Bradley County facility would handle larger items and this would require a smaller workforce.
“Even though this is not yet a done deal, Bradley County is taking the necessary steps to finalize its local commitment to the company,” said Bradley County Mayor Gary Davis. “I am very pleased the County Commission decided in workshop session to place the proposed PILOT agreement, industrial access authorization and fast-track grant authorization on the Consent Agenda for next Monday’s meeting.”
A PILOT agreement refers to “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes.” On a local level, the most recent PILOT negotiated by city of Cleveland, Bradley County and Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board leaders was the agreement that landed the new $120 million manufacturing plant by Whirlpool Corporation.
“To my knowledge, this is the first PILOT agreement ever placed on the consent portion of the (Bradley County Commission) agenda and it clearly reflects the level of cooperation, understanding and trust we have all worked hard to establish between the administration, the Bradley County Commission and the Industrial Development Board,” Davis said. “While there still remains a number of other issues to work through at both the local and state level, we are confident in our state and local team’s ability to resolve any remaining concerns on the part of Amazon.com and should firm up the investment in the next few weeks.”
Ross Tarver, IDB chairman, said Amazon.com will “make a great new addition to our local economy” provided a final incentive package is confirmed.
“This is an extremely complicated project with a very ambitious construction timeline,” Tarver said. “We could not have gotten to this point without a dedicated and focused team from Bradley County, the city of Cleveland, Cleveland Utilities, the state of Tennessee and the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. We will continue to work hard to finalize this employment opportunity for our citizens. My thanks go out to every person who has contributed to the creation of this opportunity for Bradley County.”
The original Amazon.com project was code-named Project Infinity and its site development and plant design were tagged Project ASAP.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said the potential Amazon.com approvals show that Cleveland, Bradley County and Southeast Tennessee “continue to be hot spots for industrial development.”
Like other local elected and economic development officials, Rowland pointed out confidentiality agreements with Amazon.com prevented any earlier disclosures.
“As members of the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board, we each agreed to confidentiality in publicly naming the company until an announcement from the company and the state,” Rowland said. “I commend the Bradley County government for its willingness to proceed with zoning for the property as well as other needed incentives. Because Amazon is purchasing its site from private property owners, it does not affect publicly owned property owned by the city and county.”
Rowland said Amazon officials on Monday indicated their company’s growth is the reason for the proposed plant developments.
“Amazon indicated late Monday that its business is increasing, which could result in some of the part-time employees becoming full-time,” the Cleveland mayor said. “There is a spin-off to the Amazon operation in that major carriers like the United States Postal Service, Federal Express and United Parcel Service will greatly benefit from the increased shipments for ground and air transportation in both Bradley and Hamilton counties.”
Rowland credited several entities that have been involved in the zoning and incentive package developments, namely Bradley County government, the state legislative delegation (Reps. Eric Watson and Kevin Brooks, outgoing Sen. Dewayne Bunch and incoming Sen. Mike Bell) and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
“I understand that an Atlanta firm has announced job fairs will be held in Cleveland and Chattanooga in the next few days to give local citizens opportunities to apply for the new jobs,” Rowland said.
Watson said Amazon.com joins a growing list of new developments like Wacker Chemie and Whirlpool that will benefit the immediate areas within his district which includes portions of Bradley County, as well as Polk and Meigs counties.
As far as economic development and the creation of new jobs, he said there is no better place to live than Southeast Tennessee.
“Amazon.com and WACKER will benefit the workforce by providing good-paying jobs and it will help their children with increased tax revenue for schools,” Watson said. “You won’t find a better team of local, regional and state economic developers than in this district. Everyone works together like clockwork and that’s what it takes.”
Brooks said he is pleased that local leaders can finally talk publicly about the potential plants.
“Our local leaders, elected officials, governing bodies and Chamber of Commerce have done an amazing job putting all the pieces together on this complex deal,” Brooks said. “For the most part, (this was) under a veil of silence. At the request of the company, we were asked not to announce the name of the prospect.”
Brooks added, “(With) the global reach of Amazon.com, the millions of dollars being invested in Bradley and Hamilton counties, and the hundreds of new high-paying jobs, this project will ensure a bright future in Bradley County ... to infinity!”
The state legislator said the identification of Amazon.com by name comes at an appropriate time of year.
“We all have much to be thankful for this season,” Brooks said. “Bradley County is blessed with recent and rapid industrial and corporate growth.”
Brooks credited state economic development leaders for their willingness to partner with Southeast Tennessee jurisdictions for fast-track funds and for other cooperative efforts.
“Although the Amazon.com deal has not been finalized, we are pleased with the progress of the discussions,” he stressed. “Hopefully, we will be able to announce finalized plans for both fulfillment centers soon.”
In Monday night’s public disclosure, Bredesen and Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Matt Kisber said identifying the company’s name became necessary as state leaders and local government jurisdictions approach PILOT agreement votes.
“We are working diligently with Amazon.com officials to work through outstanding issues on this project,” Bredesen said. “It is my hope that we can bring these discussions to successful resolution and create a large number of jobs for the people of Tennessee.”
Kisber acknowledged the company’s name has been a hot topic statewide, regionally and locally.
“There has been lots of speculation in the media in recent weeks about who we might be working with on this project,” Kisber said. “Because of the need to move forward at the local level on PILOT agreements in multiple communities, we felt it was important at this time for policy makers at the state and local level to know who we were in discussions with.”
Kisber said negotiations with Amazon.com have included a team approach with Bradley and Hamilton counties, and their respective leaders.
(Editor’s Note: Managing Editor David Davis contributed to this report).