published Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

'Opportunity of a lifetime,' says Amazon worker on Obama's visit

President Barack Obama hugs Amazon employee Lydia Flanders after she introduced him Tuesday before his speech at the Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga.
President Barack Obama hugs Amazon employee Lydia Flanders after she introduced him Tuesday before his speech at the Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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College-educated but jobless due to the tough economy, Chattanoogan Lydia Flanders took a job at the city’s Amazon distribution center in 2012 keenly feeling the need to “make something happen.”

On Tuesday, amid whoops and hollers, she introduced President Barack Obama to nearly 2,000 of her fellow workers and a contingent of political and business dignitaries.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. He signed my remarks,” Flanders said after the president’s 30-minute speech at the company’s Enterprise South industrial park center.

Flanders, a 28-year-old mother of three, was chosen to represent the company because of her work ethic and upbeat attitude, according to the company. Over the past year or so, she has been promoted to a leadership position at the huge Amazon facility that employs about 2,500 people.

“The team realized she’d be a wonderful choice” to give introductory remarks, said Amazon spokesman Ty Rogers.

But for Flanders, the events leading up to Tuesday were an unlikely journey.

Having worked in media research and medical assisting after her 2006 graduation from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she recalled that both she and husband Robert found themselves unemployed during the economic downturn.

“We knew we had to make something happen, and happen fast,” the woman said. Someone told her Amazon was hiring at the facility the Seattle-based Internet giant built here in 2011.

So, she and her husband both signed on as seasonal employees in May 2012. She was elevated to full-time status in August and has gone from being a “picker” to “a collator” — the employee who makes sure everything a customer orders is picked, sorted, packed and shipped in a timely manner.

  • Video vignettes of President Barack Obama's visit
    Watch a compilation of Times Free Press photographers video footage with different views from across the Chattanooga area for President Barack Obama's visit to the Amazon Fulfillment Center at Enterprise South. President Obama announced a proposal to cut corporate taxes as a way to create more middle class jobs during his speech.

At the same time, her husband was promoted.

“It’s almost like working with family,” the woman said. “I say hello to them. It makes my day so much better when I see them. It doesn’t seem like work. It’s really fulfilling.”

The black woman, whose youngest daughter’s name is Maliyah and pronounced like one of Obama’s daughters, said employees at the center help drive each other.

“If you have solid support, you can do anything,” she said.

The Ooltewah High School graduate said she “most definitely” plans on making a career with Amazon.

“I want to continue to grow with Amazon,” Flanders said. “This company allows you to grow as fast as you want to. They open the door … I will walk through as long as they open it.”

Tuesday, she recalled what it was like to personally meet the president, adding that “it was just like I was talking to you.”

Her husband saved the napkin on which Obama had placed a drink, and one of her daughters is keeping a coaster.

But Flanders noted that it was a remark by her youngest daughter that has stuck with her.

“My daughter said, ‘When you meet the president, tell him my name is Maliyah. I want the president to know my name,”’ Flanders said.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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