Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called the new Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) facility in Republic “impressive,” but infrastructure needs have arrived with the 1.3 million-square-foot development.
Parson toured the new fulfillment center on Sept. 27.
General Manager Andrew Lee showed the governor and first lady Teresa Parson around the facility, which he said is the equivalent size of 22 football fields.
The center, located at 3200 E. Sawyer Road, has been operational since Aug. 1, and Lee said 1,400 associates already have been hired. Another 400 will be brought on for the holiday season.
“The atmosphere that you see around here in the Springfield area and the city of Republic is incredible,” Lee said. “We’re seeing just droves of people who want to work here.”
Following the tour, Parson said the Amazon center in Republic represents “a great opportunity for our state. … Needless to say, it’s pretty impressive.”
Macy Mitchell, executive director of the Republic Area Chamber of Commerce, offered some perspective on the Amazon workforce.
Mitchell said about a third of the workers hail from the Republic area, with another third coming from regional locations. About a third were hired from other distribution centers, he said.
“It’s been amazing,” he said.
Parson said the center is a boon to the labor market in southwest Missouri, and that when major companies come to the state, it’s an opportunity for residents.
He also praised the workers who were on task at the building in the middle of a pandemic to help others get the things they need.
“There’s people in here working day in and day out, and I thank them,” he said.
One enticement to workers Lee noted is the starting wage of $15.50 per hour and an average wage of more than $18 per hour. Full-time workers also receive benefits that include medical, vision and dental coverage starting on day one. Full tuition reimbursement is offered for in-demand fields after three months on the job, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.
The company is investing $1.2 billion in its tuition program, which applies not only to full college tuition but to high school and GED diplomas and English language proficiency certifications.
As part of his tour, Parson was invited to place an item into a package and then seal it and label it for delivery.
“I just hope somebody gets it,” he joked.
Parson highlighted the fact that an item can come into the fulfillment center, and within 33 minutes it can be labeled and shipped back out.
“I wish everyone could get to see what I got to see today,” he said. “The future’s pretty bright out here.”
Mitchell agreed, with one question: “Can we get a five-lane road here instead of a two- or three-lane?”
He said infrastructure needs are growing as the business and residential populations increase. “The biggest issue in our area that we’re looking for investors in and also money from the state is infrastructure,” he said.
When asked if the city has sufficient amenities to accommodate the influx of new residents and visitors, Mitchell gave a mixed response.
“As far as amenities are concerned, we’ve got more than enough small-business innovation going on that we can definitely accommodate. There are more restaurants going in – we just had Andy’s come in – and strip centers are developing as we speak,” he said.
“We just want more culture or places with things to do. It sounds funny, but a cinema, a bowling alley, something like that would be nice.”
Mitchell said it is easy to stay in Republic for most needs, with big-box stores, food options, car dealerships and churches.
“You don’t have to leave Republic if you don’t want to,” he said. “I say I spend about 95% of my income in Republic, and the other 5% is when my wife wants to go to Target.”
Pressures on the Republic School District are another concern. According to Springfield Business Journal reporting from April, the district experienced a 5% increase in students since 2016-17, bringing enrollment to 4,900 with another 500 students anticipated in the next two to four years.
In a Sept. 7 SBJ story, city administrator David Cameron said Republic’s population is 18,500, and there are 2,000 single- and multifamily residential units in some level of development. Five years ago, only 60-80 houses were in the works, Cameron said.
Allyssa Dudley, Republic’s public information officer, said if all of the units are built, that would lead to an increase of 14,000 residents over the next five years, a 62% jump.
Cameron agreed with Mitchell that infrastructure is a top concern with the development in the city.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “It’s the biggest priority we’re focusing on now. You have to have infrastructure and schools to grow.”
The Amazon opportunity developed very suddenly for Republic, as developer Tom Rankin of Rankin Development LLC explained in Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know interview this summer.
Rankin called the speed of the development mind-boggling. The 134-acre property was purchased from Drury University in November 2020, just 10 months before the opening.
Of Republic, Rankin reported, “They love the location,” and said the company found smaller communities advantageous because they “can be more nimble” with development.
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