By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
EDWARDSVILLE — From diapers to dogfood, from laser printers to bug deflectors, there’s a little of everything for consumer tastes at the Amazon fulfillment centers in Edwardsville, and there’s a growing need for employees to take care of the shipping.
The number of local workers is now more than double the original hiring estimates. This time last year, the centers in Gateway Commerce Center and Lakeview Commerce Center said they would need around 1,000 total workers to perform the work at the two plants. Now, those estimates are more than double that amount — and the hiring continues.
Operators opened the Gateway site to elected leaders and the media on Aug. 24 to mark its one-year anniversary. Gateway went on line a few months before the opening of the Lakeview location. The two warehouses are only a couple of miles apart.
Between them, the two centers have approximately 2,200 workers. Gateway has more than 1,000 and is still hiring, General Manager Jason Speedy said. Lakeview at the time of the tour had around 1,200, manager Matt Smith said.
“But that number obviously changes weekly as we hire,” Smith said. “And we do hire seasonally, like during the holiday ramp-up time. And we might hire seasonally for Prime Day.” Prime Day is a one-day only global shopping event exclusively for Prime members.
Approximately 1,500 of the workers are full-time. Employees mainly pick, pack and ship customer orders, using a variety of shipping services like UPS and FedEx.
“We will ship anywhere, but primarily in the Midwest. If we have a unique item that isn’t in another fulfillment center, we will ship everywhere — the East Coast, West Coast, overseas.” Speedy said.
“We’ll get it to you on time and in the right condition,” Smith added.
The centers run nearly round the clock, and the day of the tour, the movement of both workers and beeping of forklifts was constant.
Inside, the Gateway plant is a maze of shelving, conveyor belts, packaging stations, forklift corridors and an overhead catwalk with an amazing view.
“We sell a lot of diapers; there are a lot of babies out there,” Speedy commented upon viewing one aisle.
He noted that Amazon partners with the Proctor and Gamble site also in Gateway Commerce Center on mutual shipping needs.
The Lakeview and Gateway buildings are roughly the same size – in excess of 700,000 square feet.
“We staff pretty level, seven days a week, two 10-hour shifts,” Speedy said. “There is a small down-time window between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. where no associates are working.”
Many sources peg the starting wage in the $10-$15 an hour range, but Speedy would only say the workers enjoy a competitive wage and good benefits. He said the salaries are about 30 percent higher than traditional retail roles on average.
The tour event was a bit of a sale pitch for the workforce, those there now, and those still to be hired.
Speedy was asked if he had any problem getting or keeping employees. Past and present workers have said the hiring is constant.
“We have a pretty, strong healthy workforce here in Madison County and haven’t had any issues. We’re growing and hiring and proud of it,” Speedy said.
“Amazon is committed to long-term investment in the community and the state,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having over 8,000 full-time, full-benefit associates in the state of Illinois by the end of 2018. In addition to all those great jobs inside those buildings, we’ve also brought jobs in construction and other services.”
More than 95,000 authors, sellers and developers in Illinois are growing their new businesses by reaching customers through Amazon services, he said.
The benefits for full-timers are both competitive and innovative, he said.
“They are the same for our fulfillment center and customer service employees as they are for our top senior executives. We have a really competitive health insurance plan, disability insurance, retirement savings and company stock awards.”
Workers also get up to 20 weeks of paid leave. Amazon also offers a “leave share” program in which employees are able to share all or a portion of a six-week parental leave with a spouse or partner who works at another company but doesn’t have access to paid leave.
Amazon has roles for all sorts of skill sets, from engineers and operators to those with no job experience willing to be trained, said Smith, whose Lakeview site handles smaller-size goods than does Gateway.
Amazon also offers a Career Choice program that pays for associates to go back to school. It offers 95 percent of tuition toward in-demand fields, regardless of the relevance of jobs to Amazon.
Robotics, computer science and engineering are a few of the examples, Smith used. Robotics are heavily used at the Lakeview site.
Dignitaries present for last month’s grand opening included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Congressman John Shimkus, R-Illinois.
Durbin said Amazon’s transformation of the world retail marketplace is to today’s generation what the advent of the supermarket was to his back in the 1950s.
“I grew up in East St. Louis. When I was a little boy we had confectionaries and little stores, three of them in a four-block area. And then along came the A&P store, and it all changed. Supermarkets came along, closing down these little stores that all of us counted on. What we’re witnessing today is change, all across America and the world. Luckily, we have a company that’s leading the change, in the United States.”
Durbin, who is an Amazon Prime member, marveled at the fact that he recently was able to order goods through Amazon that were delivered within hours — on a Sunday.
Amazon’s service model has not been a boon for brick and mortar retailers, which prompted Durbin to introduce a bill calling for sales taxation on goods sold over the Internet. To its credit, Durbin said, Amazon has shown its support of a such a measure “out of fairness to the retail of the future.” The measure has passed the Senate but been blocked in the House, he said.
Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton said Amazon’s arrival was timely, given that Madison County had suffered some loss of manufacturing and other jobs.
“They’ve technically changed our county,” he said.
The city provides water, sewer, police and fire protection for the commerce centers, Patton pointed out, and all the necessary permits.
“And all that with no property tax for seven years,” he said, referring to the fact that the centers are built in an enterprise zone.