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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 8, 2016 3 years ago

Big Deal

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The Amazon fulfillment center in south Hillsborough County, all 1.1 million square feet of it, is really only a microcosm of CEO Jeff Bezos's grand vision: To outdo anyone and everyone in service and speed.

The Amazon fulfillment center in south Hillsborough County, all 1.1 million square feet of it, is really only a microcosm of CEO Jeff Bezos's grand vision: To outdo anyone and everyone in service and speed.

But it sure is big.

Amazon, in a media and special guests-only event March 30, opened the doors to the cavernous facility, surrounded by farmland, for the first time since it opened Sept. 17, 2014. (A renovation to the facility was completed last fall.) The plant, in Ruskin, had 1,000 employees when it opened, and now has 2,500 people there, who work in harmony alongside hundreds of robots, says facility General Manager Chris Monnot.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was among the guests at the event, and like many others, he was wowed by the size. The governor also praised Amazon for being a Sunshine State jobs leader. “There's not a lot of places in Florida that added 2,500 jobs in the past year,” says Scott.

Amazon has more than 4,000 fulltime employees in the state, in Ruskin and other facilities in Lakeland, Davenport and Miami. The Davenport and Miami buildings are sorting centers, while the others handle fulfillment. In Amazon lingo, fulfillment means pick, pack and ship.

The center, in Ruskin, mostly ships small items, such as books, toys and DVDs. Some kitchen appliances, too. Most of the stuff gets delivered to places in Florida and the Southeast, says Monnot.

On the day of the media tour, the facility was quiet and controlled. A few employees took products from one cart and moved them into another. Other workers stuffed envelopes with precision.

Newspaper reporters, bloggers and TV news crews came from as far away as Orlando. Some reporters stopped and chatted with workers along the tour, led by Monnot. Several media representatives for Amazon walked alongside the reporters.

But the real tour stars were the robotic units. The machines move products all around the facility, which Monnot says makes for faster and more efficient processing of products. Amazon employees control the robots and the fine-tuned system of orchestrated movement through internal software.

The plant, considered an eight-generation facility by Amazon, is one of the most technologically advanced centers the company operates, says Monnot. “It's really cool,” he says, “to be able to ship thousands of products to customers.”

Here's a glance at the numbers behind the fulfillment center:

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