The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Amazon continues expansion of warehouses in the Inland Empire

70984 full Inc. reported Tuesday it’s planning to open a new 1.2 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Moreno Valley sometime next year.   The Seattle-based online seller of just about everything  made the announcement while offering tours of its newly expanded facility in San Bernardino to California Gov. Jerry Brown, a host of lawmakers, community leaders and  journalists.

The San Bernardino fulfillment center covers a million square feet and houses a complex system of conveyor belts moving products in plastic yellow crates and cardboard boxes.   Rows and rows of shelves store millions of items, seemingly at random, but precisely according to orders.  Three copies of John Grisham's "Sycamore Row" might sit right next to three bottles of laundry detergent and a family-sized box of multigrain crackers.  

On the same day the Conference Board reported a sharp decline in consumer confidence nationwide,  Amazon Vice President of North American Operations, Mike Roth said his company’s confidence in its own consumers is on the rise.  As he led a tour of the San Bernardino facility, employees stocked the inventory for the peak holiday shopping season, which Roth says starts on November 1st.  On last year's busiest shopping day, Roth says Amazon customers were ordering more than three hundred  items per second globally. 

"So these buildings are really meant to fulfill customer orders at scale," Roth said. 

When the San Bernardino center first opened about a year ago, it employed 700 people.  Now, Amazon says 1400 people work there -- and another thousand will come on board to work the holiday rush. When the Moreno Valley center opens, Amazon reports it will need a thousand more. 

Amazon reports its fulfillment center jobs pay on average 30 percent more than traditional retail jobs and are accompanied by stock grants and comprehensive benefits.  Kelly Reenders  of the San Bernardino County Economic Development Agency says the jobs at Amazon are also steady and develop more skills.

"It isn’t just moving boxes around or driving forklifts," Reenders says.  "There’s some high-tech jobs that take place within these warehouses."   

Reenders says the return of distribution and warehouse work to the Inland Empire has helped whittle down the unemployment rate in the region from above 14 percent three years ago, to around 10.5 percent now.  

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