Amazon expands Chattanooga operation for Christmas season at 'Unbelievable' pace

Amazon expands Chattanooga operation for Christmas season at 'Unbelievable' pace

November 28th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Boxes travel on a conveyor belt in the Chattanooga Amazon fulfillment center.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 30.3 - Percent gain in Cyber Monday online sales nationally over a year ago

• 43.1 - Percent increase in department store Internet sales on the day

• $185.12 - Per capita sales online Monday

Source: IBM Benchmark

Amazon employee Mitchell Prince said Tuesday he's in his second Christmas season at its Chattanooga distribution center and he termed the scope of business inside "unbelievable."

"It's busier this year," the Fort Oglethorpe man said, noting the Enterprise South industrial park facility has expanded operations since its last peak period.

Cyber Monday nationally was the biggest ever for online retailers, according to a company that tracks web sales. Internet sales were 30 percent higher over a year ago, reported IBM Benchmark.

Amazon, the nation's No. 1 Internet retailer, currently employs more than 9,000 workers at its four Tennessee fulfillment centers, said company spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman.

"We are continuing to hire for seasonal positions," she said in an email.

Michael Thomas, general manager of Amazon's Bradley County center, said there are about 500 full-time and several hundred seasonal workers at the Charleston distribution facility. Over the run up to Christmas, he projected his center alone will handle several hundred thousand units per week.

"It's fun to watch," Thomas said.

His site handles larger goods, such as big-screen TVs, lawn tractors and water heaters, while the Hamilton County location processes smaller items.

On Tuesday at the Chattanooga facility, tractor-trailer trucks lined the long entrance road to the rear of the 1 million-square-foot distribution center where the company loads and unloads the mass of goods which go through the site.

The mall-like employee parking lot was at least 80 percent full around noon. An Amazon official said earlier the Chattanooga and Charleston sites combined would employ upwards of 5,000 people this year.

Chattanoogan Doug Mahan said he's slated to start seasonal work this week at the Hamilton County location to earn some extra Christmas spending money "instead of watching TV."

"It sounds like a good way to stay in shape," he quipped.

Andrea Witt, who manages the Tennessee Career Center in Chattanooga, said her office is still working with a private company, Integrity Staffing Solutions, which is helping Amazon find workers.

The Career Center started in early September to aid Amazon in finding enough seasonal employees to man the local facilities, she said.

Amazon last year opened the two Southeast Tennessee distribution centers, a $164 million investment.

Nationwide, Amazon said it had planned to bring on about 50,000 people for the holidays.

IBM Benchmark said per capita spending on Cyber Monday fell 6.6 percent from the year-ago level to $185.12. But total revenue rose because more people shopped online, said Jay Henderson, strategy director of IBM Smarter Commerce.

Online sales are still only about 10 percent of total holiday spending, but that's growing every year. The National Retail Federation estimates that overall retail sales in November and December will be up 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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