Little Rock lands Amazon fulfillment center, 825,000 square foot facility with over 1,000 jobs

July 13-19, 2020

By Daily Record Staff 


After Little Rock opted out of a supposed courtship to land Inc.’s $5 billion H2Q headquarters three years ago, the Seattle-based ecommerce giant announced plans Tuesday (July 7) to open its first fulfillment center in Arkansas at the city’s largest industrial park by 2021.


Following Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony on a new $11 million transportation infrastructure package at the Port of Little Rock on Monday (July 6), Amazon announced that Arkansas workers will soon work alongside robotics to pick, pack and ship small items to customers anywhere.


The new 825,000 square-foot fulfillment facility, Amazon officials said, will create over 1,000 new full-time jobs with starting pay at an average of $15 per hour with full benefits. Across the globe, Amazon has more than 175 operating fulfillment centers with more than 150 million square feet of space to complete millions of online orders. Sortable centers, such as the one planned for the Port of Little Rock, are usually more than 800,000 square feet and employ up to 1,500 workers. 


Amazon would not disclose the financial terms association with project, but similar company fulfillment centers across the U.S. have seen real estate and land acquisitions cost range between $175 million and $300 million. 


The City of Little Rock’s Board of Directors gave final approval for a sale of 80 acres at the Port of Little Rock to Amazon on April 7, first reported by Arkansas Business. The Little Rock Port Authority Board of Directors made a similar approval at their specially called meeting that same day, giving the West Coast retail giant exclusive control for the development of the Zeuber Road site.


“We are delighted to be building out our network of operations in Little Rock, Arkansas,” said Alicia Boler Davis, Amazon’s vice president of global customer fulfillment. “We greatly appreciate the strong support from local and state leaders as we look to open our first fulfillment center and second delivery station in the state of Arkansas. We look forward to creating over a thousand jobs for the Little Rock community, with industry leading pay and comprehensive benefits starting on day one.”


“It is not surprising that Amazon has selected the Port of Little Rock as the newest location for its next project,” added Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Arkansas has a trained workforce and is centrally located with easy access to miles of interstate, rail, and navigable waterways. I am delighted by Amazon’s decision and confident that the Port of Little Rock will be a great fit for the company.”


Besides the new fulfillment center, Amazon is also planning a new 85,000 square-foot delivery station, anticipated to launch in late 2020. Delivery stations power the last mile of Amazon’s order fulfillment process. Packages are transported to delivery stations from Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers, and then loaded into vehicles for delivery to customers. 


The delivery station will also create hundreds of permanent, full-time and part-time jobs, in addition to offering entrepreneurs and independent contractors the opportunity to build their own small business delivering Amazon packages, company officials said. In late 2018, the Seattle-based ecommerce giant also opened a distribution center in North Little Rock which has about 100 employees.


“Little Rock welcomes Amazon in Arkansas’ first major investment from the company and is excited to provide new economic opportunities to our residents,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. “The COVID-19 public health crisis has caused deep concern among many Little Rock families as they struggle to stay afloat due to current economic uncertainty. Today’s announcement provides reassurance that Little Rock will rebound and that jobs are on the way. Additionally, Little Rock’s geographical location with river, rail, road, and air access make it ideal to expand Amazon’s distribution throughout the South.”


Little Rock’s Amazon courtship pays off


Ronnie Dedman, chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber, said the city’s foremost business trade group looks forward to continuing the partnership it built with the Amazon team over the last few years. “We are confident that Little Rock provides the talented workforce and logistical assets necessary to support their current and future needs,” said Dedman, president of AT&T Arkansas.


As noted by Dedman, this is not Little Rock and the chamber’s first courtship of Amazon. Under former Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, the city and chamber first engaged with the West Coast dotcom giant nearly three years ago during a quirky marketing campaign that brought national attention to Arkansas’ largest city.


After Stodola was lampooned publicly for responding to Amazon’s request for proposals (RFP) in early 2017 to attract the company’s so-called $5 billion H2Q headquarters, city and chamber officials partnered to come up with an unconventional social media and marketing campaign to counter that criticism.  


Using t-shirts and Twitter hashtags, city officials launched an unorthodox “guerilla” marketing campaign to spread the tongue-in-cheek message intended to attract other business that were “not Amazon.” The colorful campaign, led by Little Rock PR firm Stone Ward, included the purchase of a full-page ad in The Washington Post with a letter from Stodola saying, “Hey Amazon, it’s not you, it’s us.” The Washington Post is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.


The city’s marketing blitz also included flying an aerial banner over Amazon’s mammoth downtown headquarters in Seattle. In the weeks after the unveiling of the anti-Amazon theme, the city also posted outdoor ads supported by local businesses that included the “Love, Little Rock” tagline on marquees and donated billboard space, along with similar free messaging at the Bill and Hillary National Airport.


According to Amazon’s original RFP for its second national headquarters to house 50,000 new full-time employees, the ecommerce retailer required a city or urban area with more than one million people, and a stable and business-friendly environment. The Amazon HQ2 headquarters also needed to be in a city with an international airport and 8 million available square feet of office space to house its corporate campus and surrounding infrastructure, all attributes that Little Rock did not meet. 


Besides Little Rock’s initial bid, more than 200 municipalities and states in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. submitted proposals to land the company’s HQ2 headquarters. Proposals ranged from a package offered by New Jersey that offers nearly $7 billion in incentives to a bid by the city council of Stonecrest, Ga., that offers to change its name to Amazon, Ga. That Atlanta suburb also offered to give the company 345 acres of free land if it were selected for the new Amazon headquarters.


In early 2018, Amazon finally announced a shortlist of 20 finalists for the one of the world’s largest economic development bidding wars. In November 2018, Amazon announced that HQ2 would be split into two locations in Crystal City in Arlington, Va., and Long Island City in Queens borough of New York City. At the time, Amazon also announced that downtown Nashville, Tenn., would home to new “Center of Excellence” operational center with some 5,000 new jobs.


However, after vocal opposition from some Queens residents and local politicians such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, the Seattle tech titan decided in early 2019 to pull out of the city and build its new H2Q headquarter at the Crystal City location. The Washington, D.C. area project is expected to comprise up to 6 million square feet of office space by the-mid 2030s and create 25,000 new jobs paying well over $100,000 annually in the next decade.


Although Little Rock did not land that one-in-a-lifetime economic development project, the Port of Little Rock fulfillment center will give Amazon access intermodal trucking and transportation facilities, railway, two major interstates, the state’s largest airport, and the Arkansas River navigation system.


“The Port of Little Rock is a global destination for trade and commerce, and we are excited that a global company such as Amazon has decided to locate their first fulfillment center in Arkansas at the port,” said Port of Little Rock Chair Melissa Hendricks.


Earlier Monday, Port of Little Rock officials announced that construction has begun to widen and improve Zeuber Road at the city’s largest industrial part to meet to meet heavy use standards in anticipation of Amazon and Czech gunmaker CZ-USA locating there. The $5 million project was made possible through funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the City of Little Rock and Pulaski County, officials said.


In addition to the Zeuber Road improvements, the Port of Little Rock also announced an additional $6 million in public infrastructure funds for additional road widening, intersection improvements and new road construction to accommodate increased transportation capacity needs associated with the new companies. Funding for these improvements was provided through several local, state and federal government agencies, officials said.


Altogether, the Little Rock port is part of the 448-mile McClelland-Kerr Arkansas River system, which runs from the Mississippi River northwest to 15 miles east of Tulsa. The port has over 40 businesses that employ over 4,000 people.


“Little Rock’s location and business-friendly environment make it an ideal choice for companies looking to invest, and I’m confident that improvements to the infrastructure at the Port of Little Rock will continue to attract new business to the area,” said Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said. “Increasing the industrial quality of Zeuber Road will benefit the city and its economic partners for many years to come.”