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Why Columbus could not attract an Amazon distribution center

Take a sneak peek inside an Amazon fulfillment center

The Amazon U.S. fulfillment network consists of more than 50 fulfillment centers, over 20 sortation centers and more than 90,000 full-time employees. Have a look around.
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The Amazon U.S. fulfillment network consists of more than 50 fulfillment centers, over 20 sortation centers and more than 90,000 full-time employees. Have a look around.

When he heard the news Tuesday morning that online retail giant Amazon.com Inc. had chosen Macon, Ga., for a new fulfillment center that will employ more than 500 people full-time, Brian Sillitto said he felt no emotional disappointment.

Instead, the senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce said “it makes me even more hungry for a win,” even if he knows that Columbus never really stood a chance in attracting a million-square-foot distribution facility that demands to be off major highways.

“I’m glad that they selected Georgia,” Sillitto said of Amazon.com, which will have four fulfillment centers altogether in the state once the Macon location opens. The others already up and running in the state are in Braselton, Lithia Springs and Union City, all off interstates that will help funnel the online merchandise rapidly to customers across the Southeast.

“I’m always cognizant of the fact that we’re in it to win it, and winning projects and economic development is the reason I get up in the morning ... so that people in this region will have a good job,” he said.

Columbus was not “in the hunt” — on any long or short list — to land the latest Amazon facility, Sillitto said, although he and the chamber staff are working to bring new employers large and small to the city and surrounding region. He said some potential projects are in the works, although he can’t discuss specifics.

“I would say we’ve got a pretty strong pipeline, but as it goes you never really know about a lot of these that are looking at you,” he said. “You may get down the road with them and sometimes they hit and sometimes they don’t.”

The Amazon deal was unveiled Tuesday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who touted the state’s workforce, technology network and logistics infrastructure for nailing down the latest economic shot in the arm for the state. The Macon facility will handle larger items, including household furniture, sporting goods equipment and gardening tools.

“As a top national distribution hub, suppliers can reach 80 percent of the U.S. population from Georgia in just a two-day truck drive or a two-hour flight,” the governor said in a release that indicated the new jobs being created will include not only blue-collar forklift operators, but also warehouse management positions. Employee benefits will be “comprehensive,” to include medical, dental and vision insurance, along with 401(k) savings options and performance-based bonuses and company stock awards.

If Amazon had been interested in Columbus, it likely would have taken a hard look at Muscogee Technology Park, the 1,300-acre business park off U.S. Hwy. 80, or Macon Road, on the city’s east side. There are now roughly 2,000 workers at a handful of companies in the development, the lion’s share of those people, roughly 1,400, employed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia in a glitzy office building that the insurer is leasing.

Sillitto understands that the city needs to fill more of the business park, which has about 1,100 acres available for future employers to construct an office, manufacturing facility or distribution center. He said the chamber is constantly marketing Muscogee Technology Park and other properties in the area to site-selection consultants and real-estate brokers.

To have a better shot at getting on the radar screens of future developers and firms seeking a location, he said the chamber is preparing to launch a website enabled with a geographic information system (GIS) that captures, stores and processes all types of data for site-selection consultants. The website has been in the works for several months, he said, with it expected to go live in a week or two. It will be called “ChooseColumbusGA.com.”

“We need to have an enhanced web presence because site-selection consultants and companies these days, that’s the way they find out about you,” Sillitto said. “They may Google you and they find out about Columbus, and oftentimes they do their site-selection due diligence (research) off of your website. So if you don’t have a robust website, you’re in the mud.”

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