Amazon’s new $325 million, 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center with its 1,500 jobs is not just the largest project in Bessemer’s history, but the economic impact is expected to ripple throughout the Birmingham metro area.
For starters, officials believe the investment figure will go up and the number of jobs could potentially double after the center opens. They also expect the physical size of the facility to increase.
The construction and initial operation phases of the Amazon project are expected to have a $700 million economic impact on the region, according to Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development with the Birmingham Business Alliance.
The fulfillment center will contribute $203 million to the county’s economic output annually, add $123 million to the county’s GDP, boost Alabama’s output by $232 million annually and add $137 million to the state’s GDP, according to the study.
“It’s a huge day for Bessemer. One of the biggest in the history of Bessemer,” said Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley. “When you look at the largest single investment in the city of Bessemer’s history – you’re talking about $325 million investment – it’s tremendously significant for the city of Bessemer. It’s a gamechanger.”
Site work has already started on the 133 acres of former U.S. Steel property off Powder Plant Road near Alabama Splash Adventure water and theme park.
Davis said people shouldn’t think of the Amazon project as some basic warehouse.
“There are levels of fulfillment centers,” Davis said. “There are the really top-of-the-line fulfillment centers and then there are some that are not quite that grand. Ours is top-of-the-line. This is going to be top of the charts. People here are going to be blown away by what they see when this is all done.”
The project is so large that Gulley said the city of Bessemer had to grant a variance because its building codes don’t allow for a project that large.
What was code-named “Project Blue Bird” for confidentiality took a team of economic developers and elected officials to win.
In addition to Alabama, Jefferson County and Bessemer elected officials, Gulley said the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Birmingham Business Alliance, Alabama Power and others helped lure Amazon to Bessemer.
Davis said the team that was put together during the attempt to lure a second Amazon corporate headquarters – the so-called “HQ2” project and the “Bring A to B” campaign – proved to be valuable in winning the fulfillment center.
“The whole process of pulling that team together, submitting the proposal that we submitted – which, by the way, caught their eye – that helped us with this project,” Davis said. “Now we bring that same team back together, we kind of already know what we’re going to be doing. So we have to answer their questions, we have to resolve some of the issues. Teamwork and team members in each one of those places got all of that done and the result is this fabulous project.”
The Amazon officials hope to complete construction on the fulfillment center by July 2019 when initial hiring will begin through October 2019 in time for next year’s holiday shopping season.
Gulley anticipates Amazon’s location on Powder Plant Road between the Alabama Adventure Parkway and Academy Drive exits off Interstate 20/59 will ignite new interest for growth. He said hotels, restaurants and spinoff businesses are already asking about property there.
“I think it’s going to change a lot in that area – more than all of us can imagine,” he said. “Hopefully God allows us to live to see all of the things that are going to come as a result to Amazon coming to the city of Bessemer.”
The jobs are expected to pay between $14 and $15 per hour initially. Those who have their high school diploma or equivalency can earn $3,000 per year for a four-year degree if they work at the fulfillment center for at least one year, Gulley said.
Davis said he is excited for the worker training opportunities that will come from having Amazon in the region and the state’s AIDT worker training program focused on filling jobs for them. Through potential programs at Lawson State Community College, Jefferson State Community College and even neighboring Bessemer High School, the opportunities are great.
“Those jobs of tomorrow are coming here today,” he said. “Now we will have a chance to start training our younger workforce for jobs (with) skills that will translate in the future to almost any area of the economic sector.”
It’s going to take more than Bessemer residents to fill those jobs, Davis said.
“People from all over central Alabama will have an opportunity to go get these jobs and to learn how this new technology is going to drive things in the future,” he said.
Both Davis and Gulley said another big bonus is being able to lay claim to an Amazon operation.
“We’re talking about a company that’s world known coming to Bessemer; the first fulfillment station in the state of Alabama,” Gulley said. “Bessemer and Amazon will be synonymously tied together as of now.”
Davis said Amazon is one of those names in the tech sector that gets the attention of other companies.
“We’re in that category now,” he said. “I think this is going to be the thing that puts the flag up where some of those other companies are going to say, “Hmm, Amazon is in central Alabama. Maybe we need to go there, too.’”