While Newark and dozens of other cities across the country are still waiting to hear where mega-retailer Amazon will locate its coveted second corporate headquarters, the company is moving ahead with an expansion of its New Jersey fulfillment-center operations as online sales continue to flourish.
Amazon has already become one of the state’s largest employers — it would tie for fifth on the state’s latest official list based on the company’s newest figures, with 15,000 workers primarily at a stable of 10 fulfillment centers, all closely tied to the New Jersey Turnpike. The company’s New Jersey locations, which range from Logan in South Jersey to Teterboro in the north, gives it easy access to the state’s 9 million residents, but also 40 percent of the nation’s population that lives within 24 hours of the state.
“We want to exceed expectations in customer delivery and response, and so I think you’re seeing us meeting the demand in New Jersey, and the Northeast,” said Rachael Lighty, the company’s regional public-relations manager, during an interview with NJ Spotlight yesterday.
In addition to reducing product-delivery times, those Amazon facilities have also provided a boost to the New Jersey economy during what’s been an overall slow recovery from the Great Recession. The jobs are not only in the fulfillment centers, but also include corporate positions and those at Amazon-owned Audible Inc., its Newark-based audio-book seller.
West Deptford next in line
Amazon’s presence in the state, it says, should inevitably lead to more jobs even as the company relies more heavily on new technology like robotics. A new, 1,000-employee facility is due to open next year in West Deptford, Gloucester County.
“It’s kind of the opposite of the typical viewpoint about robotics, where robotics equals less jobs,” said Andrew Spata, another company public-relations official. “In Amazon, robotics equals more jobs. We have a higher headcount than a traditional, legacy building would have.”
The warehouse and fulfillment-center field that Amazon is a part of is one segment of an industry sector in New Jersey that’s known as transportation, logistics, and distribution (TLD). Amazon isn’t the only company that is taking advantage of New Jersey’s key location and transportation-infrastructure network as online shopping and e-commerce continue to chip away at traditional brick-and-mortar retail.
The TLD sector has become a major part of the state economy, generating nearly $60 billion in gross-domestic product in New Jersey, which along with its central location on the East Coast, boasts ports, airports, highways, and rail infrastructure. More than 370,000 New Jersey workers hold jobs in the TLD sector, according to recent state labor data, led by the surging warehousing and storage subsector.
Indirect jobs as well
But Amazon’s expansion in New Jersey has been drawing particular attention since most of it has occurred within the last five years. In fact, Moody’s Investors Service, a major Wall Street credit-rating agency, detailed the growing Amazon footprint in the Garden State in a special report last year. As for the towns where they’ve been built, the fulfillment centers have served to boost local property tax revenues, though some of that has come through negotiated Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs).
In addition to Amazon’s New Jersey’s employees, Lighty, the company spokeswoman, said Amazon estimates it has generated another 3,500 indirect jobs, including in the construction and consulting industries.
“We utilize, for catering, for landscaping, T-shirt printing and production, local, smaller businesses that are right in the communities where our fulfillment centers are,” she said.
The company also works closely with local charities and other organizations to serve the communities in which their facilities are located, including earlier this week, when it held an event in Edison to distribute essential items to the needy. “Being a good neighbor is not just about the people that are closely surrounding and living near the fulfillment centers, but it’s also those organizations in the community that are helping residents throughout that community,” Lighty said.
Criticism of the company
But Amazon has also drawn criticism for muscling out smaller retail chains, and for rebuffing any efforts to have its employees unionize. In New Jersey, concerns have also been raised by some Republicans and Democrats about the $7 billion in state and local tax incentives that have been offered to the company in an effort to bring Amazon’s “HQ2” to Newark.
In all, Amazon is promising to pour up to $5 billion in new investment into its second corporate headquarters, which will employ as many as 50,000. State economic-development officials have also estimated that HQ2 could provide an up to $9 billion overall economic benefit for the state.
Earlier this year, Newark was named a finalist in Amazon’s nationwide search for a location for its new headquarters. (The company’s main corporate campus is in Seattle.) A final decision on the HQ2 location could come later this year.
Silence on HQ2
Lighty and Spata declined to talk about HQ2 yesterday, but they were more than willing to discuss the full benefits that come with the jobs that are already being filled by New Jersey residents at the company’s fulfillment centers. In fact, at a recent hiring event at a fulfillment center in Robbinsville, the line snaked outside and around the building, with the benefits being the major draw, Spata said. “And the potential to grow within the company,” he said.
Lighty also stressed the company’s emphasis on providing career-training opportunities to its employees at all levels, something that comes as New Jersey business leaders have been stressing the need to improve workforce development as part of an overall effort to stem an ongoing outmigration of millennials.
“We partner with universities that might provide your certificate or (commercial driver’s license) to provide tuition,” she said. “They come into our (fulfillment centers) so our associates don’t even have to travel to the school to receive their certificate or degree, they can learn right on site, which I think is great.”