Amazon on its way to becoming top private employer in Hamilton County

Amazon on its way to becoming top private employer in Hamilton County

May 20th, 2015 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Toni Kribs, left, helps Mary Smith at an Amazon job fair at the Brainerd Crossroads on Tuesday in Chattanooga. Smith works at Amazon through a temp agency and is applying to be hired by Amazon.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Amazon is quickly clicking its way to potentially becoming Hamilton County's largest private employer.

Hundreds of people turned out Tuesday for a job fair in which the nation's No. 1 Internet retailer planned to hire another 500 workers for its Chattanooga distribution center. That's in addition to more than 400 jobs it created in March.

The company now has more than 3,000 jobs in Chattanooga, said Amazon spokesman Nina Lindsey. That's all since it opened its Enterprise South industrial park center in 2011.

Top employers in Hamilton County

1. Hamilton County Department of Education, 5,992 employees

2. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, 4,479 employees

3. Erlanger Health System, 3,840 employees

4. Tennessee Valley Authority, 3,739 employees

5. Memorial Health Care System, 3,267 employees

6. Unum, 2,800 employees

7. McKee Foods Corp., 2,750 employees

8. City of Chattanooga, 2,681 employees

9. Amazon, 2,487 employees*

10. Volkswagen, 2,372 employees

*Before announcement of more than 900 jobs this year

Source: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. Employment totals reflect full- and part-time jobs at the end of 2014 when the list was prepared.

Hannah Fricke directs Ken Dunlevy, right, as he enrolls at an Amazon job fair in this file photo.

Hannah Fricke directs Ken Dunlevy, right, as he...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

"It's all due to customer demand," Lindsey said.

Amazon has blown past its neighbor Volkswagen in terms of employee headcount. However, the German automaker plans to hire another 2,000 people to join the nearly 2,400 who already work at the factory to produce a new sport utility vehicle.

Amazon's job additions this year also leaped past disability insurer Unum, which has about 2,800 employees in Chattanooga.

Among private employers in the county, BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee with nearly 4,500 workers is tops, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. BlueCross is a private, not-for-profit company.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, in whose district the Amazon facility sits, said the Seattle-based company has exceeded expectations since it announced it was coming to Southeast Tennessee early this decade.

"The Amazon story is a great story," the Chattanooga Republican said. "Amazon has had a good trajectory. They're continuing with their successful ways."

In addition to Chattanooga, Amazon has a similar distribution center near Charleston, Tenn., where it employs more than 500 people. That facility handles larger goods, such as riding lawnmowers and big-screen TVs, while smaller items past through the Chattanooga center.

Lindsey said there are no plans currently to hire more people in Bradley County. But, she said, the company's growth is ongoing.

"Customers continue to order on Amazon.com," Lindsey said.

She wouldn't give average pay for the jobs, saying there are different levels. Amazon's online site said its fulfillment associate positions pay $11.25 per hour.

Lindsey said Amazon does offer benefits "starting day one." She also said the company hasn't had a problem finding qualified employees, noting it had already filled the more than 400 jobs it announced in March.

On Tuesday, people began standing line for the job fair well before the 10 a.m. start time at the Brainerd Crossroads facility at Brainerd Baptist Church.

Lindsey said there was a lot of interest in the jobs, which are hourly positions in which employees will pick, pack and ship customer orders.

"As long as they meet the qualifications, they'll walk out with jobs," she said.

Job seeker Mike Burton, 30, of Chattanooga said that while he has heard employment at Amazon can be challenging with a lot of walking, he's used to hard work.

"That's not a problem," he said, adding he has worked jobs at carpet mills in Dalton, Ga.

Charlie Jeffries, also of Chattanooga, said she's looking for a summer job until she returns to East Tennessee State University.

"I'm fit and in shape to do it," she said. Jeffries, 19, noted she plans to save money she earns over the summer for college.

Weston Stansell of Hixson said he had a friend who worked at Amazon who recommended the Internet retailer. Stansell, 18, was hopeful of landing a job as a stower or in quality control.

Hunter Allen, a 26-year-old business student at Chattanooga State Community College, said he previously worked at Amazon and wanted to return with hopes of making a career with the company.

"I hope to work [for it] after college," he said.

McCormick said the Amazon jobs help spur the commercial and residential real estate markets as well as the tax base.

"It's positive in so many ways," he said. "They're very engaged in the community."

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


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