JeffCo Commissioners Say Investment Paid Off in Amazon Opportunity

Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington sports his button for the Amazon to Birmingham campaign. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County commissioners dusted off their atob campaign buttons for their committee meeting Tuesday.

Some had called the “Amazon to Birmingham” campaign to lure in an Amazon headquarters a waste of money. As commissioners continue to lay the groundwork to draw in an Amazon advanced robotics fulfillment center, they said that was money well spent.

“For $50,000 and we get a $325 million investment with 1,500 jobs,” Commissioner David Carrington said.

“We knew it was a longshot,” Carrington continued, “but we knew it would raise the profile of Jefferson County and the Birmingham metro area in recruiting jobs. It’s probably one of the best investments this county commission has made.”

Commissioners said today that the Amazon center being discussed for Powder Plant Road in Bessemer is an advanced robotics fulfillment center. Before the deal can be set, all government agencies involved would have to sign off on the deal. Barring a roadblock, a groundbreaking should happen later this month, with the facility opening in fall 2019.

“We’re going to be moving dirt before you know it,” Carrington said.

Jefferson County committed $3.3 million in infrastructure, a sales tax abatement on the construction and a 10-year property tax abatement to the project.

Commissioners noted a site plan that calls for more than 2,000 parking spaces.

“Obviously, we didn’t win HQ2,” Carrington said, “but it was very clear in that meeting with Amazon that the ‘atob’ effort led to this advanced robotics and fulfillment center.”

Among those Carrington praised was Big Communication, which created the campaign to lure in Amazon.

“It won two more national awards last week out of Chicago,” he said. “It’s racking up Addies” and has gotten hundreds of millions of impressions on the internet.

Carrington also noted the help of Birmingham mayors William Bell and Randall Woodfin, who handed it off to Bessemer Mayor Ken Gulley.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said Amazon’s 1,500 jobs with an average starting wage of $14.65 is the largest employment announcement for Jefferson County that he can recall in his lifetime.

“We had some call-backs at U.S. Steel back when I was a kid,” he said. “But they were already there. This has the opportunity to lead to a more significant, life-changing event for this entire area and change the landscape of western Jefferson County.”

Carrington added that Amazon “insisted” there be a bus stop near the development because they want to hire people who don’t have transportation. He noted that Jefferson County will do the required road work on Powder Plant Road.

The commission will have a public hearing on Amazon during its Thursday meeting. The Bessemer City Council must ratify the deal at its Tuesday meeting and the governor must sign off, as well, for the deal to close in mid- to late June.

Carrington cautioned that there are still several agreements to be made. “it’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings,” he said.

Carrington said another big project also is in the works, one that requires him to travel to Europe June 12 to July 9. He’ll be recruiting business “most of the time. I am going to go to the beach between Saturday and July the 4th.”