UPDATE: The land sale at the Little Rock Port for a huge Amazon fulfillment center employing possibly more than 1,000 people was approved tonight by two city agencies. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. confirmed our reporting that it will be the site of a major Amazon distribution center. Full details were withheld pending finalization of agreements.
Friday, Mark Friedman and George Waldon of Arkansas Business broke bombshell news of what could be the biggest industrial development in Pulaski County since the landing of the Little Rock Air Force Base a half-century ago. Their anonymously sourced report said that Amazon planned to build a 3 million-square-foot, four-story fulfillment center at the Little Rock Port.
The facility would be one of 110 around the country and, at that reported size, one of the biggest. It would be a construction project costing in the tens of millions and employ untold hundreds. This would be in addition to a new Amazon distribution center in the former Jacuzzi plant, a lease first reported on the Arkansas Blog.
Since Friday’s news, I’ve confirmed the story independently. The massive construction project is already underway at the Little Rock Port along Zeuber Road, being improved with $500,000 provided last year by the city and additional funding from Pulaski County and the federal governemnt. City, county and port officials wouldn’t discuss what’s afoot at the port. Amazon also wouldn’t comment.
There was no document discoverable under the Freedom of Information Act with the name Amazon on it. Nor was there likely to be. Big deals like this work through brokers, intermediaries and corporate shells.
The Little Rock Port board announced Tuesday morning it would meet by telephone at 5 p.m. today to take up this item:
Approve a resolution authorizing the sale of approximately 80 acres of land to Project Diamond or its assigns.
What is Project Diamond? Bryan Day, the port director, wouldn’t say. But I was confident it was the Amazon project and details began to fall into place.
I obtained several documents related to that purchase. An agreement was reached in October to sell the 80 acres for $3.2 million to an LLC incorporated in Delaware. The agreement later was extended until Feb. 12. And then it was further extended to April 30. The port also granted a temporary construction easement that allowed the significant groundwork that is underway now. How significant? Check this great drone video from KATV.
— Scott Carroll (@scottyknoxville) April 8, 2020
At the 5 p.m. meeting, the port board approved the sale as outlined in the agreement without discussion. Day said the name of the prospect would not be revealed until a City Board meeting at 6 p.m. He cited the work done at the local level by the port staff and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to get the deal done. “Economic development is complicated. Certain levels of confidentiality have to be honored to come to fruition,” he said.
He said the project will bring “significant jobs and significant capital investment.” The revenue from the land sale will enable future land purchases to expand the industrial district. (The port last year gave land free to a gunmaker lured by state development efforts. It is not yet completed.) The sleuths found from the sale document that Panattonni, an international development firm whose website shows fulfillment centers it has completed elsewhere, is the developer. Gray Construction, another international firm with experience in this type of project, is expected to be doing the building.
City Board was set to meet at 6 p.m. today. Until 4:20 p.m., there was no item on the agenda approving a land sale at the port, which is a city entity. But items may be added at any time, by a vote of the board. A bit less than two hours before the board meeting, a resolution was released approving the sale to the same LLC, which a web search shows serves as a registered agent for developments around the country and is related to a developer that works for Amazon in other locations. The sale resolution was quickly added to the board agenda at the outset of the meeting
The City Board met by Zoom with members participating from remote locations. At the end of regularly scheduled business, the mayor announced that the land acquisition approved earlier represented a deal with Amazon — a “dynamic, innovative” company.
“This is a great day for our city,” the mayor said. It is “good news in the midst of uncertainty.”
He said it was a “major investment” and “major deal” as details would eventually show.
He asked Bryan Day, the port director, and Jay Chesshir, head of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, to talk about it.
Day said the project “grew organically” beginning about six months ago and couldn’t have advanced without the Little Rock Chamber.
Chesshir said the company had requested that no details on the project be released until the final closing. He also said the chamber’s work began longer ago than six months.
He said, “Congratulations will soon be in order and we look forward to being able to talk about it.”
Chesshir said changes may come in the final form of the project so he asked not to be pressed on details, such as a timeline.
Director Lance Hines asked if the “Love, Little Rock” campaign when Little Rock dropped out of a competition for an Amazon national headquarters, played a role. Chesshir merely responded, “It’s a great day to love Little Rock.”
Word of the deal has been bubbling in the business community. The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has been assisting the effort, in work dating back almost to the time it got some good press for a letter spurning the hunt, in the nicest possible way, for a new Amazon headquarters (“Love, Little Rock”).
It’s a very, very big deal. There are already even dreams of the fulfillment center serving as a catalyst for complementary developments, maybe suppliers of goods sold by Amazon, on some of the 4,000 acres in the port industrial park. It has a slack water harbor and rail line in addition to nearby interstate access. Plus, the airport lies just north of the port.
This is a momentous day for the city. It’s the sort of thing that would normally be unveiled at a massive ceremony with a huge array of dignitaries, banners, balloons and more features of the public relations arts. If and when this deal fully breaks into the open, the gathering seems likely to be limited by coronavirus restrictions, in-person, to 10.
You can read here about Amazon fulfillment centers, which the company says employs 250,000 people worldwide. These highly automated warehouses take shipments from manufacturers then parcel the goods out to on-line buyers. Robots are heavily used.
Here’s a story about how Amazon is building multi-story facilities in several locations in the U.S., including Memphis and Austin. It reports on at least four such developments, all shrouded in code names until Amazon is announced as a tenant. The others are said to employ 1,000 to 2,000 people. Some have received government subsidies, which in Arkansas are routinely available to anyone who creates a significant number of new jobs. It’s all about making the company the biggest force in retail and logistics, the story says. Note: As Amazon expands its share of the retail market, it is not creating new retail demand, it is taking it from someplace else, so negative impact arises as well to local retailers.
This deal isn’t done until it’s done, I should add. See the Verizon building the state got hung with when Raytheon backed out of a location here. But Amazon IS advertising for jobs at the management level in Little Rock.
Amazon says this on its website about pay and other compensation:
On top of Amazon’s $15 minimum wage, the company offers full-time employees industry-leading benefits, which include comprehensive healthcare from day one, 401(k) with 50 percent match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave, and a flexible Ramp Back Program and Leave Share Program that allows employees to share their paid leave with their spouse or partner. For associates reaching their one-year employment mark, we offer our innovative Career Choice Program, which pre-pays 95 percent of tuition for courses in high-demand fields. Since the program’s launch four years ago, more than 16,000 employees in 10 countries have pursued degrees in game design, visual communications, nursing, IT programming, and radiology, to name a few.
An Amazon photo gives you this look inside one.