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How Amazon picked the prime site for its first Alabama fulfillment center

The Birmingham area’s long-shot bid for Amazon’s second North American headquarters, known as HQ2, didn’t land the grand prize for Alabama’s largest metro. But the “Bring A to B” campaign created as part of that effort played a role in a different economic development coup – the state’s first Amazon fulfillment center, with 1,500 new jobs.

In June 2018, the Seattle, Washington-based internet retail giant confirmed plans for a 825,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Bessemer, just minutes away from downtown Birmingham. Total investment from Amazon and its partners in the project is $325 million.

“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 company’s announcement.

“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,” he added.

Economic Impact

The Amazon fulfillment center is projected to deliver a significant economic impact for Jefferson County and Alabama. For starters, the annual payroll at the high-tech facility will top $46 million.

Overall, the center will contribute $203 million to the county’s economic output annually, while adding $123 million to the county’s GDP, according to a study prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research in the University of Alabama’ Culverhouse School of Business.

The UA analysis says facility will contribute $232 million to Alabama’s economic output each year and add $137 million to the state’s GDP.

Amazon is seen as a powerful catalyst for growth in Bessemer, a former industrial center that was once home to large steelmaking operations. In fact, U.S. Steel previously owned the land where the facility is being built.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said the Amazon project represents the largest single private investment in the city’s 131-year history. As an added bonus, the company has pledged to create a tuition-assistance program for its Bessemer workforce.

“Amazon is bringing jobs and opportunity to our residents and students. I am particularly proud of the educational incentives Amazon will offer our young people: get your high school diploma, work one year and receive $3,000 the next four years toward furthering your education,” Gulley said. The fulfillment center’s 1,500 full-time employees will work alongside Amazon’s advanced robotics technology.

Luring Amazon

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the recruitment of Amazon’s fulfillment center perfectly aligns with a strategic emphasis to facilitate the growth of tech-related jobs across the state.

“Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Bessemer will create a large number of high-quality jobs and feature cutting-edge automation and technological innovation,” he said. “We’ve made recruiting technology-focused jobs a priority, and Amazon’s presence in the state will help us advance toward our goal.”

The recruitment team benefited from the “Bring A to B” campaign that was launched in September 2018 for the HQ2 project, according to officials at the Birmingham Business Alliance.

BBA and Jefferson County officials said the campaign united the recruitment team and prepared it for Amazon’s questions regarding the fulfillment center project, known as “Project Blue Bird.”

The campaign included the installation of three gigantic Amazon boxes in Birmingham and a social media campaign featuring push-button displays that automatically directed Tweets to the company.

Jefferson County officials said Amazon executives later told them that the campaign captured their attention and put the Birmingham area on the company’s site-selection map.

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