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Amazon.com operates two facilities in Central Florida: This one in Ruskin, which handles small items, and one 46 miles away in Lakeland, which is for large items.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 23, 201612:00 PM EST

Opening multiple centers is common for Amazon.com

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By any account, a 1 million-square-foot distribution center, or one close to it, is a big deal for just about any company or city.

Now try announcing an average of two a month.

Seattle-based e-commerce retailer Amazon.com has announced 18 fulfillment centers in 2016 across the country ranging from 600,000 to 1.1 million square feet of space, including one in North Jacksonville.

The possibility the company might be the name behind the unidentified “Project Velo” proposed in West Jacksonville isn’t far-fetched considering Amazon.com announced two centers, or a second, in several cities so far this year.

Employment for each of the 18 centers ranges from “hundreds and hundreds” to 1,500.

In most cases, the company is developing separate fulfillment centers in those areas — one for small goods like toys, electronics, books and the like and another for large items like TVs, sporting goods and furniture.

The North Jacksonville center, at a footprint of 855,000 square feet, will employ 1,500 full-time workers to pick, pack and ship small goods.

At Cecil Commerce Center in West Jacksonville, Project Velo would hire 1,200 jobs for a 1 million-square-foot center. That fits Amazon.com’s general description for large-goods fulfillment centers.

Velo is described in city legislation as a leader in product distribution. Another city document calls it a regional package center for a national company.

Should Amazon.com surface as Project Velo, as it ultimately did in July for North Jacksonville’s Project Rex, it could be following a pattern.

For example, so far this year Amazon.com has announced second centers in Haslet and Coppell, Texas; Carteret, N.J.; Joliet, Ill.; and Tracy, Calif.

It also announced a third facility in San Bernardino, Calif.

And as it announced that second New Jersey center, it simultaneously said it would open one in Florence as well, about 50 miles away.

Amazon.com also issued a news release that it would open two 700,000-square-foot centers, for a combined 1,000 jobs, in Edwardsville, Ill., one for small items and one for large.

In fact, the scenario already exists in central Florida. The company operates a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Lakeland for large items and another 1.1 million-square-foot center for smaller items in Ruskin, 46 miles away.

The Amazon.com site under development at Interstate 295 and Pecan Park Road is 23 miles from the Velo’s Cecil site at 13333 103rd St.

The company has not responded this week to emails seeking a comment about Project Velo. A spokeswoman said in August, when asked about the emerging Cecil Commerce Center distribution center, that the company has a longstanding practice of not commenting about its future road map.

As of July, Amazon.com operated more than 50 fulfillment centers in the U.S. with more than 90,000 full-time employees.

There’s also the question whether Amazon.com might eventually choose Jacksonville for other functions, such as a sortation or technology center.

As of July, it operated 23 sortation centers in the country, which generally are smaller — 200,000 to 300,000 square feet — to sort packages for “last mile” final delivery. The company said there were two in Central and South Florida.

The JAX Chamber said in July it continued to encourage Amazon.com to pursue other projects in the region, but there was no timeframe.

The company is no stranger to Cecil Commerce Center master developer Hillwood Investment Properties, either. The Dallas-based developer has completed five to 10 lease deals with Amazon.com throughout its business centers.

Hillwood has experience with large projects, too, having developed about 15 buildings in the range of 1 million square feet.

Whether for Amazon.com or not, 1,200 jobs are a big employment boost, especially after the 1,500 already announced for North Jacksonville.

Candace Moody, vice president of communications for CareerSource Northeast Florida, said the organization is prepared to help staff the Westside center.

Moody said logistics and warehouses are attractive for Northeast Florida because the industries already have a workforce and the jobs often don’t require more than a high-school education.

“Those are jobs that are good, solid ones,” she said.

At Amazon.com’s North Jacksonville center, 500 jobs will pay an average $50,000 a year for management, operations and technology positions. The remaining 1,000 will pay $12-$15 per hour, which is at least $25,000 to start.

CareerSource also is prepared to help staff the North Jacksonville center. The company is expected to start filling those positions by mid-2017 to be up and running by the holiday season.

The city and JAX Chamber are developing a program to help North Jacksonville job candidates prepare to apply. A detailed plan is expected by year-end.

Of the 1,200 jobs at Velo, 325 would pay an average of more than $50,000, leaving the bulk — 875 — possibly paying in the range of the Amazon.com warehouse workers.

Job seekers from Baker and Clay counties might take advantage of opportunities in West Jacksonville, although unemployment rates in those counties are lower than in Florida and Duval.

Florida’s unadjusted August unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, with Duval’s at 5.1 percent. Baker was at 4.7 percent and Clay at 4.4 percent, according to the state.

Economic developers in those counties see the possibilities.

“Anytime high-wage jobs are created, especially on the west side of Jacksonville, it could have a positive impact on Baker County’s workforce,” said Darryl Register, executive director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce.

Register said an estimated 52 percent of Baker’s working population commutes outside the county for employment, with the largest percentage going to Duval.

The potential for a large number of warehouse jobs is a positive, he said.

“We have a great blue-collar workforce,” he said, adding that Baker County High School offers a logistics program.

The Global Logistics and Supply Chain Technology program is designed to prepare students for further education and careers in transportation, distribution and logistics.

Bill Garrison, president of the Clay County Economic Development Corp., said the growth at Cecil Commerce Center not only is an opportunity for the workforce but also for small- and medium-size businesses that can work with the larger companies at the business park.

He said well more than 50 percent of Clay’s workforce commutes outside the county for employment, with the majority to Duval.

“This project will create another 1,200 opportunities for them,” he said.

Garrison said 17.5 percent of the county’s workforce is working in blue-collar jobs and those 17,500 employees “will appreciate another opportunity.”

He said its current distribution centers are in Green Cove Springs and Orange Park.

Garrison said growth in job opportunities will put upward pressure on wages, which is good for job seekers but also increases costs for businesses that pass on the cost to consumers.

However, he said most people accept that reality and the U.S. economy “is way overdue for an adjustment in wages across the board.”

“Clay in particular suffers from lower-than-average wages,” he said, “and any opportunity to push wages up will be appreciated by our workforce.”

[email protected]

@MathisKb

(904) 355-2466

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