Amazon distribution center in Collier could be good news for labor workforce
A new Amazon distribution center could be coming to Collier County.
Commissioners last week agreed that the online retail giant's planned project, known as a "Last Mile" distribution facility, is a "comparable and compatible use" on roughly 18 acres designated for commercial development at the southwest corner of Davis and Collier boulevards where the shell of an unoccupied shopping center stood for years.
The proposed distribution center — used to receive packages, sort them and deliver them to customers — would be housed in a newly constructed 105,000-square-foot building at 8760 Davis Boulevard, according to documents and plans submitted to the county.
The company, which opened a delivery station in Lee County last year, had requested that the commission determine that its Collier project, though not specifically listed as a permitted use in the commercial center, would fit with the surrounding uses and uses within the I-75/Collier Boulevard Commercial Center Planned Unit Development.
The ask came before commissioners as part of their summary agenda June 9, and the board unanimously approved it without discussion.
County zoning staff wrote that the proposed Amazon facility would operate similarly to a nearby Walmart retail store with the only "minor difference" being that customers pick up goods from Walmart whereas Amazon drops goods off to customers.
Amazon is proposing to use a structure originally approved as a shopping center, modifying it to accommodate additional truck bays, county staff said in an email to the Daily News. The development, known as Davis Crossing, was partially constructed but never occupied.
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In addition to approvals from the county needed for the site modifications, the structure will also need a building permit for the structural improvements, county staff said. The company has not indicated a timeline for completion, according to the county.
The proposed facility would be located in an Innovation Zone created by commissioners in 2018. The zones are intended to promote economic development and diversify the local economy. Revenue from increased property values in the zone's geographic boundaries are used to help pay for projects in the zone.
The ordinance for the zone states that the trust fund created by the program can be used for "infrastructure required to serve new target businesses," impact fees, building permit fees or other county "fees related to the construction of structures to serve the target business."
"Payment of these funds requires Board approval though, so being located in the Innovation Zone only makes public funds available," county staff wrote.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but documents submitted to the county by the company shed some light on the project and the inner workings of the proposed center:
Packages are shipped to Amazon Logistics delivery stations, which operate 24/7, from "fulfillment and sortation centers." The packages arrive from line haul trucks, are sorted based on ZIP codes and loaded into delivery vans or workers' personal vehicles used for delivery.
At the proposed Collier site, the company anticipates approximately 12 line haul trucks delivering packages to the delivery station between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. Packages are sorted primarily in two shifts with the first between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and the second between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
About 70 Amazon associates will enter and leave between those times, the company says. Additionally, there will be about 12 full-time managers supervising sorting operations, arriving between 6 and 9 a.m. and leaving between 3 and 6 p.m.
The first "wave" of drivers arrives at a delivery station at about 7:30 a.m., according to the company's document. Each delivery wave takes about 30 minutes with drivers loading their vehicles and departing to deliver packages to customers. As one wave of drivers prepares to leave, a new wave of drivers queues and prepares to load their vehicles. The last wave leaves the station around 1 p.m.
Amazon Logistics, the Amazon arm that fulfills customer orders, has secured offsite van parking on Tollhouse Drive, according to the company documents. That parking lot will be used for delivery vans, with drivers showing up in the morning to drive the vans from the lot to the delivery station on Davis Boulevard. In the evening, the vans stay at the lot overnight.
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Although the company's documents hint at the number of employees that would work at the proposed center, it is not clear exactly how many people the company would hire or when.
For its Lee facility nearly 450 jobs, including shipping, tracking and delivery positions, were initially filled during a hiring event in 2018, a career expert at Career Source of Southwest Florida told the Daily News last year. But that number later decreased to an estimated 350 jobs after Amazon announced they would delay their opening date.
Many positions that were filled at the Lee delivery station — which is located on Bavaria Road, off Treeline Avenue, just north of Daniels Parkway — were for flex drivers, who shuttle packages to customer's doorsteps using their own cars.
To Jim Wall, spokesman for Career Source Southwest Florida, Amazon coming to Collier would be a big boost for the local workforce.
The company, he said, was a leader on $15 per hour minimum wage, and its model of employees working 23 hours a week being considered full time and eligible for benefits allows for higher flexibility and better work-life balance.
Amazon in 2018 increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, at the same time cutting stock awards and incentive pay for hourly warehouse workers and customer service employees.
Florida's minimum wage increased this year from $8.46 to $8.56.
"It just bodes well for the labor market...," Wall said of Amazon's potential move to Collier. "I think it's nothing but good news."
He said he thinks Amazon's model could have a broader effect on other companies in Southwest Florida.
"That's almost a game changer for the workforce in Southwest Florida," Wall said.
So far, Wall said, job seeker traffic, despite high unemployment numbers, has been "a little lighter than expected."
He said that could have to do with people receiving unemployment benefits and potentially making more than they would ordinarily make due to the additional federal aid or a lack of available childcare and fears of contracting the coronavirus.
Those factors could pose a challenge for Amazon in its recruitment efforts, Wall said.
"It has been a little bit slow, but it will pick up," he added.
Although Amazon's delivery trucks have become a ubiquitous sight in recent years, and especially so during the pandemic with many staying at home and ordering goods, the company has also come under fire for its treatment of workers and its coronavirus response.
An investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting last year found that "the company’s obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills."
Reveal reported that, taken together, the rate of serious injuries for 23 of the company's 110 fulfillment centers nationwide "was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry" in 2018.
Earlier this year, the company saw several walkouts and protests as workers tried to bring attention to their safety concerns and put pressure on the company to improve workplace conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic. At least eight employees have died from COVID-19 as of mid-May.
National Public Radio reported in April that the state attorney general's office in New York said in a letter to Amazon that the company "may have violated federal safety standards for providing 'inadequate' protections to warehouse workers."
NPR reported that Amazon "has maintained that workers' accusations were unfounded" and quoted a statement from Amazon that it has taken "extreme measures to keep people safe."
USA Today contributed to this report.