President Obama tours Amazon in Chattanooga as officials prepare to increase workforce

photo President Barack Obama speaks to Amazon employee Adrienne Thompson during a tour of the Pack Mezzanine at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

BY THE NUMBERS• 3: Aircraft carriers which could fit in Amazon's Chattanooga center• 28: Football fields that could go into the facility• 100 million: Items shipped so far from Chattanooga site in less than two yearsSource: Amazon

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday quipped that Amazon's 1 million-square-foot Chattanooga distribution center is "the North Pole of the South," noting he saw everything from Kindles to dog food to beard trimmers during his tour.

Top Amazon officials said they are gearing up for more growth in both Chattanooga and its nearby Charleston, Tenn., center with plans to hire added employees at each facility.

"We love being here," said Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy.

Misener said in an interview after Obama's visit to the Enterprise South industrial park site that the facility is up to 2,700 people. The Bradley County distribution center, which also opened in 2011, has about 800, Misener said.

"We have a highly motivated workforce," he said, noting the company is planning for continued growth.

While the Chattanooga location was closed Tuesday for the president's visit, plans were to quickly resume operations for the nation's No. 1 Internet retailer. The day before, Amazon announced it was hiring 7,000 more workers nationwide.

Mike Roth, Amazon's vice president of North American Operations, said it plans to officially mark the opening of its Lebanon, Tenn., distribution center next month, giving it four such operations in Tennessee.

"It's going extremely well," he said, adding that he is "pleased with the quality of the workers."

Dave Clark, Amazon's vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, said the company has created more than 40,000 jobs across its business since 2008, many of them at its growing fulfillment center network.

"It's work you do which makes this possible," said Clark to the Chattanooga employees who came to catch a glimpe of the president.

Amazon, which is hiring at 17 U.S. distribution centers, has a strategy to build out its system of fulfillment facilities to more quickly and cheaply deliver orders to customers. While company officials think the initiative will show gains in long-term growth, the efforts are costly. This month, the Seattle-based business posted a $7 million loss in its most recent quarter.

Losses could continue in the next three-month period, according to Amazon.

But Tuesday, officials said they were glad to hear Obama talk up Amazon to the 2,000 or so workers and others whom he addressed in a 30-minute speech.

Both Misener and Roth cited the president's mention of "Career Choice" - a company program in which it pays for up to 95 percent of eligible employees' tuition regardless of whether the skills they learn are relevant to a career at Amazon.

"That was very encouraging," said Roth.

Obama, dressed in blue slacks, a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and a blue tie, referred to Amazon often during his talk on growing the nation's economy. He said that Amazon as a company wants to see its employees gain added skills. Benefits such as training and health care for employees "is good for your bottom line."

When the president talked about raising the minimum wage, that drew a claps and cheers from many in the crowd.

"When folks have more money in their pockets, that's good business for Amazon," he said about the retailer.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

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