How big is that Amazon distribution center under construction at the Little Rock Port going to be? How many people will it employ?

  1. Huge.
  2. Maybe thousands.

People who’ve worked on-site tell me the building will have an 840,000-square-foot footprint. KATV’s drone video above gives you a good idea of scope.

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It will have at least four stories or nearly 3.2 million square feet. Maybe more. It is reportedly going to take 18 months to complete.

Panattoni, an international firm whose website shows fulfillment centers it has completed elsewhere, is the developer, judging by land sale documents with the real estate investment company that bought 80 acres from the city for $3.2 million, presumably for lease to Amazon. (Amazon has been identified as the occupant of the site, but few details have been released in Little Rock.) Gray Construction, another international firm with experience in this type of project, is reported to be doing the building.

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But, again, back to scope.

A good guide might be this Spokane Journal of Business article on an Amazon project under construction there. It, too, is a four-story robotic “fulfillment center,” essentially a giant retail store that picks and packs goods ordered online to deliver to buyers. It is 2.6 million square feet. It is also on an 80-acre site.

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The project started in April 2019, for completion at the end of August, roughly the 18-month period I’ve been told to expect here, or roughly by mid-2021.

Cost in Spokane: $181 million.

Construction jobs: 700, with numerous local subcontractors.

Employees when open? 1,500 to 3,000 at peak shopping season. From the Spokane article:

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Amazon says the Spokane fulfillment center will employ more than 1,500 people, which the Seattle-based online mega-retailer plans to hire before the holiday rush. That employee count could go higher, though, as a traffic analysis submitted to Spokane County’s planning staff is based on estimates of a typical employee count of 2,200 with a peak season employment of nearly 3,000.

 

Site plans for the facility show nearly 1,900 parking spaces.

 

The facility will have a total of 63 truck landings in its shipping and receiving bays, and parking for more than 300 semitrailers.

Alone this is beyond big for Little Rock. Even if most of the workers aren’t Little Rock residents, as sometimes happens with industrial developments. But sales taxes will be assessed on the millions in goods sold there. And city officials believe there’s a potential for ancillary development. Remember, for one, that Amazon recently leased a former Jacuzzi factory and distribution facility in Southwest Little Rock for an as-yet-unspecified purpose, but plans to take occupancy in May.

The complete story has a dark aspect.

This is one of more than 100 such facilities in the U.S. as Amazon tries to become the world’s dominant retailer. Retail is zero-sum. A new Amazon distribution center doesn’t create a bigger market for socks and underwear.  It takes sock and underwear sales from other retailers, with none of the overhead of their retail outlets, Sunday advertising circulars and all the other marginal costs of old-school retailing.

The Amazon center will be picking up business that otherwise could go to Walmart, Dillard’s, Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, the neighborhood hardware store, you name it. The spread of these centers (there’s one in Memphis) is meant to cover the country. I’d guess a lot of the business at the Little Rock Port will be distributed in Arkansas. Inevitably, then, jobs created at the Little Rock Port will diminish retail jobs elsewhere in the state.

That’s the free market at work. Remember what Walmart did to small-town stores? It is also more of the dislocation created by the internet, of which I have personal experience. I work in the dying publishing industry, which has been wrecked in part by online advertising and online retailing. At least Amazon’s boss, Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post, a good newspaper that continues to do vital reporting work in the time of Trump.

UPDATE: Here’s one under construction near Austin, Texas. City planners in Pflugerville had this sketch that has been distributed in multiple media reports.

PLANNED IN PFLUGERVILLE