Touchdown! Bessemer Celebrates Scoring Deal to Secure Amazon Center

Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Several members of the “team” assembled at Bessemer City Hall Friday morning to celebrate crossing the goal line with the official announcement that an Amazon fulfillment center is coming to Bessemer.

Rick Davis, senior vice president of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, explained the secret to the success that is bringing 1,500 full-time jobs and an 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center to Powder Plant Road property previously owned by U.S. Steel.

“It’s all about the team,” Davis said. “People who are making decisions to bring companies here tell us one thing: ‘We love working in Alabama because you guys are a team.’ That’s what we have to do. What we’ve learned over the years is this only works when we all pull together.”

The Seattle, Washington-based company made the initial announcement via a press release on its website.

This will be Amazon’s first Alabama fulfillment center. The company currently operates a sortation center in Mobile.

“We are thrilled to bring our first fulfillment center to the state of Alabama, creating 1,500 full-time jobs,” Mark Stewart, Amazon’s vice president of North America Customer Fulfillment, said in the release. “Alabama has a talented workforce and we look forward to making a positive economic impact in a state where we are committed to providing great job opportunities and an exceptional customer experience.”

Davis said a strong team was assembled during Birmingham’s failed effort to draw an Amazon headquarters. Bessemer was on that team, along with Birmingham, Jefferson County, the state Department of Commerce, the Economic Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Power, Spire and the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority.

“When you get that kind of a group together and you’ve got all these smart people talking about it, then we come up with a response,” he said. “That response is what brought Amazon to the central Alabama area and the city of Bessemer.”

State Rep. Louise Alexander, D-Bessemer said the state provided the piece of the puzzle that got the ball rolling.

State Rep. Louise Alexander (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

“We gave (Jefferson County) $10 million for the next 30 years for community and economic development within Jefferson County,” she said. “When Amazon did not do Birmingham and they put their sights on Bessemer, they had that $10 million there set aside.”

Jefferson County agreed to pay as much as $3.3 million for certain roadway improvements and/or reimburse Amazon for a portion of its capital investment.

Bessemer’s incentive is a scaled rebate of the occupational tax. For the first 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, there will be a 50 percent occupational tax rebate, the mayor said when the matter was approved 10 days ago. For 2,001 to 3,000 jobs, it will be 60 percent.

The scale goes up to 4,000 to 5,000 jobs.

Amazon announced the project would create 1,500, but the possibility of more jobs has come up.

“We’ve been told by the company that it’s 1,500 jobs, but we know they’re building a parking lot with 2,700 parking spaces. That alone will tell you that their growth plan is more than 1,500.”

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said the Marvel City’s resurgence began with a deal that brought a Dollar General distribution center to Bessemer in 2010. He noted that attorney Alex Leath helped to bring that deal about, working with Bessemer city attorney Shan Paden.

Leath has worked for years as general counsel to Amazon.

“Obviously we forged a good relationship,” the mayor said. “(Alex) had always desired to do something in his home town; he’s from the Irondale area.

“We didn’t have to introduce ourselves because we already knew one another,” Gulley continued. “I could sit down and say, ‘Alex, let’s make this happen. Let’s do this in Bessemer.’”

Davis said the economic impact of building the center and getting it up and running will be $700 million.

Widespread Impact

Bessemer City Council President Cleophus King said his grandfather worked at Pullman Standard, the rail car producer that was a driving economic engine for Bessemer before it shut down. He said a “little old lady” in Bessemer should see the impact of the Amazon action.

“If she has grandsons, nieces and nephews, somebody in her family will benefit from this,” he said. “But also the small mom-and-pop restaurants and stores. We’ve already been receiving calls from those individuals who have restaurants who are excited for the opportunity they can benefit from this. Everybody in the Bessemer area is really excited about this and looking to find a way they can benefit from this Amazon project coming here.”

Amazon is already doing site work to prepare for building the more than 855,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art fulfillment center. Employees there will work alongside innovative technology created by Amazon Robotics.

In its release, Amazon said its advanced technologies and robotics help employees complete jobs in a more efficient manner. Employees at the fulfillment center will pick, pack and ship small items to customers such as books, household items and toys.

“Amazon is one of the world’s most dynamic companies, and we couldn’t be more proud to see the company select Alabama for one of its high-tech fulfillment centers,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in the release. “This facility represents good jobs for our citizens and the beginning of a long partnership that I believe will see Amazon expand and grow in Alabama in the future.”

“Amazon’s decision to build a new fulfillment center in Bessemer, AL, is evidence of our state’s excellent workforce,” U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said in the release. “This project gives us the opportunity to partner with one of the most successful, widely recognized companies in the world to promote economic growth and development throughout Alabama. I am proud to be a part of this great announcement and am thrilled to welcome Amazon to the greater Birmingham area.”

Competitive Compensation

Full-time employees at Amazon receive competitive hourly wages, starting at $14.65 an hour, and a comprehensive benefits package that includes healthcare, 401(k) and company stock awards starting on day one. Amazon also offers generous maternity and parental leave benefits and access to innovative programs such as Career Choice, where it will pre-pay a portion of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. Since the program’s launch, more than 16,000 employees have pursued degrees in game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology, to name a few.

Gulley said during today’s press conference that he’s often been accused of not smiling or laughing.

“You can get some smiles and laughs out of me today,” he said.