Amazon is the expected tenant for another major distribution facility underway in the Little Rock area even as it builds a 3.2-million-square-foot fulfillment center at the Little Rock Port.
A reliable source says Amazon will be the tenant of the distribution center in North Little Rock. A second confirmation has so far been unobtainable.
A major construction project is underway behind a fenced enclosure at 13001 Highway 70, North Little Rock. In late August, the North Little Rock City Council approved a rezoning of the former farmland (180 acres in all) for a warehouse/distribution center that was said to potentially employ 500.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the rezoning and objections from owners of the nearby historic Alexander Schaer House and others concerned about the impact on the house and wetlands across the highway. Thomas Engineering, which applied for the rezoning but didn’t identify its client, said a buffer zone was planned and the project wouldn’t affect the nearby property.
So who is to locate there? A confidentiality agreement is involved. Amazon doesn’t talk about its projects in advance. Local officials oblige their desire for confidentiality. North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith responded to my report the Amazon would occupy the project: “You know I’ve heard that same rumor! Where does this stuff get started? I’ve got 79 more days and I’m going to be an unemployed has-been.” He’s not seeking a new term in the election this year.
Publicly available documents indicate one of the site developers is CDP Development, Inc., from an office in Atlanta. The project will “disturb” 110 acres of the 180 rezoned. The development is dubbed “Project Runner.” You might recall that Amazon gives its projects code names, such as “Project Diamond,” for the Little Rock Port facility, which will have four 850,000-square-foot floors equipped with robots to prepare shipments of smaller items sold at retail on the Amazon website. It’s a so-called sortable center and is expected to employ more than 1,000 people, perhaps well more.
The North Little Rock facility will be more than 1 million square feet and I’m told will handle larger items, a so-called nonsortable fulfillment center. It is very close to the Galloway exit from Interstate 40.
Amazon announced in July that it was planning a 50 percent expansion of its fulfillment center and warehouse operations nationwide. It recently opened a delivery operation in the former Jacuzzi plant in Southwest Little Rock. Its first installation in the Little Rock area, a “last-mile” distribution center in a big tent, still operates in North Little Rock.
1 million square feet? 500 workers? Who else but Amazon is doing well enough in the pandemic to have such a project underway?
No corporate welfare must be paid to Amazon for this project because it is a retailer and thus doesn’t qualify for Arkansas’s development incentives. Some road work paid with public money was in the mix in Little Rock. You don’t recruit Amazon fulfillment centers, much as mayors, governors and commerce secretaries like to take credit. Amazon puts them where they fit their strategic sales-and-delivery plans.
My standard Amazon reminder: The jobs both in construction and in operation are great things. But retail is a zero-sum game. What Amazon creates it takes away from somewhere else, not only brick-and-mortar stores and employees but also advertising and tax revenue and other benefits of the old-fashioned retail businesses that go under.