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The Amazon construction site is near the front gate of the industrial park at Enterprise South. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Internet retailer Amazon, fast-tracking the ramp-up of new distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties, has offered jobs to about 1,500 people so far.

Local officials say the hiring effort is one of the quickest undertaken by a company doing business here. Amazon began taking applications for the bulk of its work force in mid-May.

Samantha Cermak, Amazon's senior human resources manager locally, said the company has interviewed 5,000 applicants to date as it tries to staff its two massive new facilities for the busy Christmas season.

"We're thrilled with the number and quality of applicants," she said.

Amazon's distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties could help bring jobs to nearly 10 percent of the unemployed in those counties, figures show. In July, there were 14,590 unemployed in Hamilton and 4,730 in Bradley, according to state figures.

The company said it has received more than 6,000 applications for jobs at the pair of 1 million-square-foot distribution centers.

Cermak said the nation's No. 1 web-based retailer recently finished a five-week stint of interviews at Chattanooga State Community College's East Campus on Lee Highway.

Jeff Olingy, vice president of economic and community development at Chattanooga State, said it's the first time the college has provided a new business with comprehensive services such as one of its campuses for weeks at a time along with security and food.

"We hosted them for five weeks during their pre-selection process, interviews and job offers," he said. Olingy said the Seattle-based company reimbursed the college for the ancillary services.

Bradley Site

On Thursday, the Atlanta company developing the two fulfillment centers turned over the Bradley site near Charleston, Tenn., to Amazon for it to start occupying.

Charles Wells of Seefried Industrial Properties said his company is "real close" to turning over the Chattanooga location at Enterprise South industrial park to Amazon. He said that should happen at the end of this month.

Amazon has said it's investing about $139 million in the two centers and plans to hire 1,600 full-time employees and as many as 2,000 part-timers during the holiday season.

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The Chamber's J.Ed Marston

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said the pace of the Amazon project is extraordinary and the fastest in his decade with the business group.

"It's a record breaker," he said. "That's one of the things that, as a job-creating organization ... has excited us about the project."

According to Amazon, its first group of workers will start this month.

Cermak said the support locally is helpful to the company.

She said the college's East Campus was "a great venue" and cited "incredible staff support" to the business.

Olingy said Chattanooga State's aim is to offer "a turnkey solution" to businesses. He said the college plans to work to help Amazon with personnel training, though that will likely take place early next year.

"We're ready to do whatever they need when they need it," Olingy said.

Amazon has said most of the new hires will start at more than $10 an hour. For permanent employees, Amazon offers variable cash pay for performance and some restricted shares of stock.

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