Governor Bill Haslam hints at second Chattanooga Amazon facility

Governor Bill Haslam hints at second Chattanooga Amazon facility

February 3rd, 2012 by Mike Pare in News

Gov. Bill Haslam, left, watches conveyor belts carrying shipments in the new Amazon fulfillment center with General Manager Sanjay Shah. Thursday marked the grand opening ceremony of the center, which is located in Enterprise South industrial park.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

New Amazon distribution centers such as the one in Chattanooga will vault Tennessee to the top three among states in terms of the Internet retailer's footprint, officials said Thursday.

And Amazon officials, who gave Gov. Bill Haslam his first look at the 1 million-square-foot Chattanooga center, hinted that the online retailer's presence could grow in Hamilton County.

Company officials refer to the site as "Chattanooga One," said Paul Misener, Amazon's director of global public policy.

"The one's suggestive," he said. "We're all counting."

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the city would make room for Amazon as events unfold. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Misener's remarks "are a tease" and declined further comment.

Haslam said he's looking forward to more jobs coming from the company, which will have five centers in Tennessee when it builds in Rutherford and Wilson counties. Amazon now employs 400 people in Bradley County.

The governor said he was impressed by the size of Amazon's facility at Enterprise South industrial park, as well as its current 1,700 jobs.

"I'm thankful for the real-world investment in Hamilton County," he said.

When all five centers are built and staffed, Amazon will have a $350 million investment and 3,500 full-time workers in Tennessee, Misener said.

"These aren't insignificant numbers," he said.

Sanjay Shah, the general manager of Amazon's new Chattanooga fulfillment center, left, talks with Gov. Bill Haslam during a tour of the facility. Thursday marked the grand opening ceremony of the center, which is located in Enterprise South industrial park.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Haslam helped resolve an impasse with the world's No. 1 Internet retailer over collecting sales taxes on goods sold in Tennessee. Under legislation pending in the General Assembly, Amazon would begin collecting the tax in 2014. The company's sales are expected to generate $22.8 million for the state and $9.6 million for local governments.

Tennessee Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey said the state will come out ahead from the Amazon investments even though tax collections won't start for almost two years.

"If they had built these centers in Georgia, we still wouldn't get that sales tax revenue and we wouldn't have had all of these jobs," said the former Hamilton County mayor.

Misener and Haslam both called for federal legislation regarding tax collection by Internet companies.

"The time to act is now," the Amazon official said.

Haslam said Tennessee, with no income tax, relies on sales taxes to fund state services.

"Washington, given the current situation of the deficit, is going to be sending less money to the states," he said. "If that's true, then they owe it to us to let us make our own decisions about the tax owed to us."

Amazon already is expanding inside its Chattanooga building. That was "more than we had expected" so soon after opening, said Tom Edd Wilson, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive.

Mike Roth, Amazon's vice president for North American operations, said some seasonal workers have been brought on as full-timers to meet growing demand here.

The Chattanooga site already is one of Amazon's largest distribution centers by volume, he said.

Sanjay Shah, the site's general manager, said the Hamilton and Bradley facilities' workforces could reach 5,000 when seasonal jobs kick in around Christmas.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said that when he looks at Amazon's facilities, he sees jobs.

"Those are my friends and neighbors," he said.

Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.