TALLAHASSEE - As Internet giant Amazon continues to mull its future in Florida, add the northern Everglades to areas being pitched for the world’s largest online retailer to open a job-creating distribution center.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., asked Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos on Friday to consider the agricultural region near Lake Okeechobee, which is within Hastings’ congressional district, as a centralized location in South Florida for one of the company’s “fulfillment” centers.
“While agriculture has historically dominated the local economy of the Glades, I believe that we must work to create more contemporary opportunities for the people of this region,” Hastings wrote Bezos on Friday. “Historically, cities such as Belle Glade and Pahokee, located on the shore of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County, prided themselves on the vast businesses that catered to both the local community and tourists in the form of hotels, restaurants, and boutiques.”
Hastings’ request comes as two communities continue to await a reply from the Seattle-based company on multimillion-dollar pitches for one of the fulfillment centers.
“We’re still hopeful, but we have no indication of anything at this point,” Willie Puz, a spokesman for Hillsborough County, said Monday.
The Hillsborough County Commission — in meetings June 19 and July 18 — agreed to pitch $6.4 million in property-tax exemptions over a seven-year period and to provide $225,000 as a partial match needed for the state’s Qualified Targeted Industries Tax Refund Program. In return, the county expects more than 450 higher-wage jobs and a $200 million capital investment along Interstate 75 in Ruskin.
Since the package was approved, there has been no word from the state or Amazon on the proposal, with no indication of when a decision could be made.
“We’re just on standby,” Puz said. “There has been at least one other county that has put together a package, and I think we’re’ all still kind of hopeful.”
To the northeast off Interstate 4, Polk County commissioners on July 9 approved 10 years worth of tax incentives worth up to $4.5 million, with the expectation that Amazon would create 100 high-paying jobs and spend at least $10 million on the new facility.
Polk County had anticipated a July 31 decision from Amazon, according to The Ledger newspaper. But there has been no word since that date.
Economic development officials from Polk County were unavailable for comment Monday.
A spokesman for Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Enterprise Florida, Inc., the state’s business-development arm, had nothing to offer on Amazon or the county proposals.
“Sorry, but I don’t have any new information on the Amazon project,” Enterprise Florida spokesman Sean Helton responded in an email. “I haven’t heard about a timeline either.”
Meanwhile, several other communities — Palm Beach County, Orlando, Ocala, Winter Haven and Jacksonville — have voiced support for making a pitch to Amazon.
The race for the centers was spurred in June when the governor’s office announced that Amazon intends to create more than 3,000 full-time jobs and pump more than $300 million in investment into Florida by the end of 2016 through the construction of more than one “fulfillment” center.
The centers are Amazon’s effort to reduce delivery time and circumvent the use of other mail carriers in self-distributing the products it sells online.
The Amazon deal appeared to have been scuttled in May as the governor’s office was unable to reach an agreement on when the company would have to start collecting sales taxes. Amazon wanted to delay collection.
Amazon currently doesn’t collect sales taxes from Florida customers but would have to start if it builds warehouse facilities in the state.
But the deal was revived after Amazon agreed to abide by state law on sales taxes.