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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 8 months ago

Job fulfillment awaiting Amazon center opening

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When Amazon opens a new fulfillment facility in Fort Myers, its salary and benefits structure may disrupt the Southwest Florida labor market.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Amazon is coming to Fort Myers, and the online e-commerce giant's impact on the local employment base will be felt sometime — perhaps as early as January — in 2019.

That impact stems from the Seattle company's plans to begin operations in a warehouse near Southwest Florida International Airport, at 10016 Bavaria Road. It's the third Amazon fulfillment center in the region, joining others in Hillsborough County and Lakeland.   

The 60,000-square-foot Fort Myers space was formerly occupied by Clive Daniel Furnishings. Commercial real estate broker Lee & Associates represented the owner of the property, KP Properties of Florida, in lease negotiations with Amazon for the space. 

Amazon will employ up to 500 in Fort Myers, and although all positions will be part time, the company will offer full-time benefits to some of the employees. Amazon was originally scheduled to begin operations in November, but the company delayed the start of operations until at least January. It hired 450 people during a job fair in October,

Starting wages for the jobs is $15 to $16 per hour. The hourly wages and the fact that Amazon is offering full benefits to its permanent part-time workforce — about 435 of the 500 — could apply additional pressure to labor shortage-strapped companies in Southwest Florida in 2019.

“The biggest difference with changes to the labor market is that the pay scale is at $15 an hour, which is several more dollars per hour than we see for similar-type work, so it may eventually increase wages at other companies,” says Peg Elmore, director of business service at Career Source of Southwest Florida. “Offering full benefits to permanent part-time employees is another way they may be raising the bar for what’s expected from benefits and pay at other businesses.”

In addition, Amazon is offering flexible work schedules, allowing employees flexibility in setting their own hours, with access to an online system that allows them to select their own schedule.

“Welcome to the gig economy,” says Elmore. “Work when I want to work, when it works for me, work around my regular life not live my regular life around work. I think that will draw people.”

Aysegul Timur, senior vice president of academic affairs at Hodges University, agrees that the addition of Amazon will add pressure to employers in Lee County, which already has the lowest unemployment rate in the region, at about 3%. But it’s good for workers.

“I believe that it does address a need for people seeking part-time employment or a second job. However, the difference is that these are year-round part-time jobs, not only seasonal part-time jobs for certain time periods,” says Timur, also dean of the Johnson School of Business at Hodges. “The local labor market will be more competitive, considering that unemployment continues to drop in Southwest Florida.”

The part time flexible hours option is expected to draw students from nearby Florida Gulf Coast University, less than a 15-minute drive from the fulfillment facility, as well as from Hodges and Florida Southwestern State College.

“It is a great opportunity for students to work with a flexible schedule while they are in school,” says Timur. “Amazon’s flexible schedule will benefit all students to find opportunities and earn some extra income. Most of the part-time jobs available in our region are in service areas such as hospitality, tourism and retail industries. However, Amazon will create a diversity for options available for them.”

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