By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
EDWARDSVILLE — Two planned Amazon fulfillment centers mean a hiring boom in Edwardsville this month, but they also cement the region’s growing reputation as a logistics and distribution center, which could be just as valuable in coming years, local leaders say.
The road to the big announcement this past month was filled with behind-the-scenes negotiation, confidentiality agreements and the kind of secrecy one would expect when a Fortune 100 business starts showing interest and promising 1,000 full-time jobs.
Edwardsville city officials got their first inkling through their own sources, before Amazon ever made contact, said Walter Williams, director of Economic and Community Development. Rumors were floating around as far back as the third or fourth quarter of 2015.
“But nothing became concrete until the first quarter of 2016,” he said. That was an email from Amazon’s Director of Economic Development Tony Boetto to Williams in January.
“It said, ‘We’d like to get together and talk about Amazon.’ That confirmed with us that it was real,” Williams recalled. “That was on Jan. 20. But before we could have any kind of a conversation on Jan. 21, we had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.”
The confidentiality period has since expired, having bound the city only to the initial dealings with Amazon, he said.
Amazon had already been in conversation with the state.
“Jim Schultz, the (former) director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, came to Edwardsville (in mid-December) to kick the tires,” Williams said. “He wouldn’t allude to anything he was doing. He wanted to see the two (building) locations specifically. You could read between the lines. You knew something was brewing.” Schultz has since left DCEO to become the appointed chief executive officer of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s new Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation.
The new buildings are at 3931 Lakeview Corporate Drive in Lakeview Commerce Center and 3050 Gateway Commerce Center Drive in the Gateway complex. They are about two miles apart. The first is just off New Poag Road, the second just off Illinois 255.
At press time, Amazon had reserved several dates for job fairs at the Leclaire Room of the N.O. Nelson Complex in Edwardsville. The dates of possible fairs are July 12, 14, 19, 21, 26 and 28. Official announcements on specific hiring dates were pending at press time.
Some of the hirings will be done “on the spot.” Wages will be standard for the industry and competitive for the area, Williams said.
A Facebook page, Amazon Fulfillment Careers, shows the jobs available in Edwardsville. People can sign up for notifications or they can go to the Amazon website, which has email notification of when jobs become available.
It could not be determined if Amazon is seeking any kind of state incentives to locate in Edwardsville. City and development officials did not know and a spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity asked a reporter to file a Freedom of Information request, which was pending.
Amazon’s spokeswoman Nina Lindsey said she personally did not know if incentives were sought, but complimented the cooperation that the city and state put forth.
“We worked very diligently with the state and local elected officials, talking about bringing Amazon to Edwardsville. There were a lot of conversations happening, a lot of work went into this. We really value the work elected officials did to support this,” Lindsey said.
So, why Edwardsville?
Amazon says its fulfillment centers are located based on customer buying habits. But, of course, logistics are a big part of the decision. Being able to ship products quickly is the key.
“For Edwardsville, the Amazon decision isn’t necessarily too surprising,” said Michael Hicks, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and Professor of Economics at Ball State University. “There’s ready access to one north-south and two east-west interstate systems, the airports in St. Louis, and most importantly, a large work force. Amazon won’t have any problem finding a solid workforce in Edwardsville for these jobs. The facility, which is far enough south of Chicago and north of Memphis, will miss much of the congestion facing those two large logistics centers.”
Amazon’s Launch Team Operations Manager Barry Walter told the city that Amazon is positioning itself to be in the right locations to turn around merchandise orders as quickly as possible.
Williams said logistics competition is fierce across the nation.
“Although we think the city is special, there is a nationwide push to establish these centers,” Williams said.
“The next phase you’ll see is Amazon having brick and mortar locations in major metropolitan areas,” he added.
Amazon is also experimenting with drone delivery of products in selected areas.
Williams said celebratory lunches are planned with the developers of each of the two spec buildings that Amazon is leasing, Panattoni Development Co and TriStar Properties. Both developers have said the buildings were under way before Amazon ever approached them.
Williams said the timing of the building construction couldn’t have been better.
“It’s hard for me to fathom. They are very courageous (building on spec). The TriStar building is $30 million and the Panattoni one is $40 million, according to their records,” he said.
The amount of money Amazon will now invest in the properties to retrofit them for its needs will be about equal to the original construction costs, Williams estimates. Amazon’s spokesman could not say for sure, but at least one of the developers agreed with that assessment.
In Gateway, several additional dock doors have been added, which adds to the overall price.
The general manager of the Gateway facility has been identified as Jason Speedy. The Gateway building should be done by August/September. An October opening is estimated for Lakeview.
Williams said he was told the two buildings will be split up to distribute sortable vs. nonsortable merchandise. Non-sortable goods would be larger items as diverse as “pianos and kayaks.” Williams was not sure but he believes the larger goods will be based in the Lakeview building, while the smaller goods like CDs and a host of products would be in the Gateway building.
The Amazon spokeswoman said the uses of the buildings would be different, but she did not know which site would be used for which products.
Amazon is a coup, there is no doubt, but the groundwork for it was laid many years ago. Williams gives credit to actions taken by community leaders to get Illinois 255 actually built, which led the way to expansion of Gateway Commerce Center.
“Because of the foresight of our leaders — (County) Chairman (Alan) Dunstan, the previous mayor and others to get 255 built and open that land up, we’re getting the benefit of this. We could have stuck our head in the sand and said, ‘It’s farmland today and it will be farmland tomorrow,’ but we didn’t. I appreciate their ability to look into the future.”
He said developers have been talking to Edwardsville even before the Amazon announcement, but the new project has certainly increased overall interest.
“We’ve been in conversations with other developers, looking to put in spec buildings, nothing for public consumption at this point,” Williams said. “We have momentum.”
The link to apply for Amazon jobs in the new Edwardsville Fulfillment Center is: https://search.amazondelivers.jobs/search-jobs?ac=19092&alp=6252001-4896861&alt=4