Amazon’s impending arrival to Jacksonville was met with a long line of applicants braving a hot July sun, hoping to snag one of the 1,500 jobs the e-commerce giant has announced it will bring to the city.
Amazon’s first fulfillment center, expected to open in September, is being hailed as a massive boon for Jacksonville. The arrival of a new IKEA store along with Amazon’s proposal to build three more warehouses by 2018 marks a trend of big business setting up shop in the 904. If the massive turnout to Amazon’s job fair earlier this month is any judge, it can’t come at a better time.
But for all the justified fanfare over the jobs Amazon will be creating, it’s important to look at what exactly these jobs will entail and what the Seattle-based company’s increased grip on consumers will do to the local economy. Because while Amazon has ushered in new employment opportunities at their growing number of warehouses, it’s had an inverse effect on the company’s retail competitors.
According to a study done by the Institute for Local Self Reliance in 2015, Amazon employs an average of 19 people per $10 million in sales while a brick-and-mortar retail competitor, say, Ross, generally employs 47 people for the same revenue. Amazon is able to push their retail competitors out of business due to this efficiency, and it’s this same efficiency that ends up costing local economies more jobs than they gain.
While the construction of these massive fulfillment centers is a great initial benefit of welcoming Amazon to Jacksonville, the opportunities for additional benefits essentially end there. Amazon’s stronghold remains in Seattle, where local companies can reap the rewards of helping to service such a large client.
But that orbit doesn’t carry to Amazon’s fulfillment centers. While most local retail stores will source their services and goods locally, Amazon’s warehouses are built to be self-sustaining — meaning there won’t be much run-off to other local businesses aside from the job creation, which is, of course, no small feat.
But what exactly will these jobs be?
Amazon as a company has gone to great lengths to present itself as a futuristic and their fulfillment centers, which are scattered in strategic locations across the country, help to fit that bill.
Bright orange roombas called Kivas, which can carry up to 750 pounds of knick-knacks that populate Amazon’s online shelves, flit around at your feet in a synchronized pattern. A 6-ton robotic arm, who goes by “Robo-Stow,” helps provide the heavy lifting for the cargo, working in rhythmic tandem with their fellow employees, the Kiva roombas, to make sure your box-set of ‘The Sopranos” is heading to the right place.
Miles of conveyor belts hum overhead and hurtle crates ready to be packaged and processed to the correct packing station. One machine weighs the package, another configures the box based on the needed dimensions. In terms of scope, humans are somewhat of a rare commodity among this orchestra of machinery.
The majority of the jobs being offered currently are for these warehouse jobs which pay $12 to $16 an hour, a good deal more than the mechanical counterparts will be making for sure. However, employees will have to endure conditions that seem to favor the machines.
Amazon advises its applicants that they will be required to stand or walk for 10 to 12 hours a day and up to 12 miles per shift in temperatures that range from 60 to 90 degrees, and “occasionally higher than that.” The fulfillment center operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so be sure you are flexible about your work days and your hours.
It’s also hard to look at a company like Amazon, who has stayed on top for so long by staying lean, as sticking with their “Symphony between robots and [the company’s] great associates” analogy of warehouse dynamics. We’re not far off from a future where machines can belt out a much more cost-efficient solo.
Working in these fulfillment centers as a human also has its risks and has been described as “not exactly a fun place to work.” But many warehouse jobs carry risks, and the $12 to $16 an hour salary fits within the median salary of most warehouse workers around the country.
So, it’s difficult to look at what is now estimated to be around 4,000 new jobs Amazon is planning to bring to the city as a bad thing. Although it’s as low as it’s been since the crash in 2008, with around four percent unemployment, plenty of people in Jacksonville are in desperate need of steady work.
Big businesses like Amazon arriving on the scene will certainly help with that in the short term. But Amazon has always existed as a double-edged sword. While welcoming these four new warehouses to Duval County, be wary not to neglect the local businesses that give the city its heart in the first place.