TAMPA - Enthusiastic Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday unanimously approved the first piece of an incentive package they hope will persuade Amazon.com to build a 1 million-square-foot assembly and distribution center in the Ruskin area. Commissioners agreed to pay $225,000 to Amazon, or 20 percent of the total state incentive package if the company creates 375 jobs here that pay more than Florida's average wage. Hillsborough officials say if Amazon locates in the south county, 1,000 jobs will be created, with 375 of those positions paying an average of $47,581. The commission will meet July 18 to consider a property tax break for Amazon that would lower the company's taxes by half, to $910,000 a year for seven years. The property tax break was approved by county voters several years ago. Commissioners gushed about the prospect of the Internet retail giant locating here, each trying to outdo the previous speaker for the most lavish superlative.
"This is our time. We're going to be No. 1," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents the south county area. "It's a grand slam," said Chairman Ken Hagan. "Jobs, jobs, jobs," added Commissioner Les Miller. Murman and Hagan said the warehouse would provide a needed economic boost for the economically depressed south county area.
"We're going to energize the South Shore community that has been in desperate need of development," Hagan said. Gov. Rick Scott announced last week he had reached a deal to bring the online retail giant to Florida, where it seeks to invest $300 million and create 3,000 jobs. The same day, Hillsborough officials released a statement saying the South Shore Corporate Park at the County Road 674 exit off Interstate 75 was in the running for one of the sites. The owner of the site, Ryan Companies, is obligated to make some road improvements, including widening 30th Street from two to four lanes between CR 674 and the entrance to the distribution center, about halfway between the county road and 19th Avenue. County Economic Development Director Ron Barton said the county is applying for a state grant that would pay $2.5 million toward the road improvements. Subsequent to the governor's announcement, news reports questioned Amazon's treatment of workers, citing instances where workers toiled in sweltering warehouses. Amazon subsequently spent $52 million cooling their warehouses around the country. Barton said he didn't know for sure whether Amazon would be required to air condition its building in Ruskin, but he had no qualms that the company would be a good corporate citizen. "You've got to feel comfortable with who you do business with," Barton said. "Amazon is an international company. I can't think of anybody that would be more conscious about their image and performance with their customers and employees than Amazon.com." Barton said he's heard possible target dates of fall 2014 or fall 2015 for the opening of the distribution center. The county is actively working with the company and Ryan to expedite construction permits, Barton said. Though none of the commissioners acknowledged the reports about adverse working conditions at Amazon, several said their research had found much to like about the company. Kevin Beckner cited Amazon's programs focused on hiring veterans and putting E-readers in schools. He pointed out that the company has a branch dedicated to film and social media, which could help the county's efforts to establish a film and media industry here. Commissioner Victor Crist pointed out that Amazon has agreed to collect sales taxes from purchaser of the company's products in the state, a change he said will fatten state coffers with "hundreds of millions of dollars."