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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Amazon seals deal for Ruskin distribution center

TAMPA — Ruskin has landed a massive new employer, with confirmation Thursday that online retailer Amazon will open a distribution center in the south Hillsborough County community employing 1,000 permanent employees and as many as 1,000 more seasonal ones.

An Amazon hiring Web site at www.amazonfulfillmentcareers.com shows it generally pays in the $11.25-an-hour range for the low-skill positions of sorting and picking customer orders. However, Amazon has won tax incentives from Hillsborough County and the state to create 375 higher-wage positions at average annual pay of $47,581.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan hailed the news as “a grand slam for our community,” while fellow Commissioner Al Higginbotham labeled it a “major opportunity.”

Meantime, locals who work in the county’s South Shore area are expecting new businesses to follow Amazon’s lead in moving to Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Sun City Center.

“This is a very exciting day in South Shore,” said Melanie Morrison, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce. “We have so much to offer in this community, and Amazon’s being here will take us to a whole new level.”

I wholeheartedly believe that with this move, the new hospital, increased retail, and educational opportunities, arts and culture, South Shore is the place to be in Hillsborough County,” Morrison added.

Amazon has been negotiating to open a “fulfillment center,” where the company fills customers’ online orders, in Ruskin since at least June. Hillsborough County commissioners quickly approved economic incentives worth more than $6 million over seven years to try to entice Amazon to open inside the South Shore Corporate Park, just west of Interstate 75 and north of State Road 674. The state will kick in at least another $900,000 in incentives.

However, negotiations over land at the Ruskin industrial park dragged on for the entire summer. News of Amazon’s decision to build in Ruskin finally broke early Thursday morning, when county commissioners got word of it in their email in-boxes. For example, a representative of the Ryan Cos., a Minnesota company that owns the South Shore Corporate Park, alerted Hagan that it had sold the land to the real estate arm of insurance giant USAA.

In turn, USAA is expected to build a 1 million square-foot warehouse there and lease it to Amazon. The email said construction should get underway immediately, Hagan said.

Nearly everyone involved in the deal was staying silent Thursday, even after the news broke. Amazon and USAA did not return calls, and a representative of the Ryan Cos. said he couldn’t comment. Even local and state officials declined to comment, including economic development officials from Hillsborough County and Enterprise Florida.

It’s not clear how Amazon’s future fulfillment center in Ruskin will affect negotiations for a similar fulfillment center in Lakeland, just across the border from Hillsborough County on County Line Road. Commercial real estate experts have speculated that Amazon will build two giant distribution centers in the region, one in Ruskin and the other in Lakeland.

The company has followed that strategy in other regions around the country. For example, it operates a large warehouse in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and another 30 miles away in Lebanon. It sometimes fills orders for large items out of one location and fills orders for smaller items out of the other.

The chairwoman of the Polk County Commission, Melony Bell, said she hadn’t heard any news about the proposed Lakeland center by Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve heard they were looking at two locations, but I don’t know their business plans,” Bell said.

Both Hagan and Higginbotham said Amazon is expected to hire as many as 1,000 seasonal workers during peak times, in addition to 1,000 or so full-time permanent workers.

While Amazon didn’t return calls Thursday, building permit documents show the Ruskin warehouse is expected to hold as many as 2,250 people at peak times.

The company’s Web site doesn’t yet show any job openings for Ruskin or anywhere else in Florida. However, its other fulfillment centers around the country show openings in a range of relatively low-skilled positions, such as order fulfillment, and many presumably higher-paying jobs in information technology, human resources and other fields.

The company is believed to be planning Florida fulfillment centers because it wants to shorten the amount of time it takes for orders to reach people’s houses. The catch, though, is Amazon’s new physical presence here means its Sunshine State customers will have to pay sales tax on their Amazon orders.

State law generally requires retailers with a physical presence in Florida to collect and remit sales taxes to the state.

Tribune reporter Lois Kindle contributed to this report.

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