Amazon plans to open its $28 million, 112,000-square-foot distribution hub in Mills River in 2020. The total project site is about 27 acres, and the operation will employ 200 people. (Photo: John Boylefirstname.lastname@example.org)
MILLS RIVER The name is on the building, and work is moving ahead full steam.
The Amazon distribution center is nearing completion in this rural town between Fletcher and Brevard, and it should open this year, Amazon spokesperson Ashley Lansdale said via email July 28.
The project, which represents a $28 million investment that will employ about 200 people, had been shrouded in mystery until May when a Town of Mills River sign permit became public. The facility, a 112,000-square-foot building on a 27-acre site, will pay associates at least $15 an hour and offer benefits such as health insurance and a 401(k) savings plan..
“Yes, the majority of the jobs will be full-time, with full benefits,” Amazon spokesperson Shone Jemmott said in May. “There are also part-time opportunities that have benefits packages available as well.”
Mills River Town Manager Daniel Cobb said July 30 via email that the town will have to issue Amazon a certificate of occupancy before the company starts operations.
“We have not done this yet,” he said. Cobb previously said Amazon designers had expressed interest in having the operation up and running this fall.
Amazon did not receive any state or local incentives to locate in Mills River. Cobb estimated the facility will generate annual property taxes in the $15,000-$20,000 range.
Operation will benefit the region
With a population of about 7,500, Mills River runs from Transylvania County to the West, Buncombe to the north, Fletcher to the east, and the city of Hendersonville to the south. Undoubtedly, the jobs will benefit town residents, but one industry expert said he expects workers to come from within an hour or so circumference.
Work is nearing completion on the Amazon hub in Mills River. The 112,000-square-foot warehouse will employ about 200 people when it opens later this year. (Photo: John Boyleemail@example.com)
The distribution center is a “last mile” operation that will get customers in the region their packages ordered online.
Amazon has more than 150 delivery stations in the U.S. Founded in 1994, the company has become one of the largest in America, with 840,400 employees and 175 fulfillment centers world wide.
On July 30, Amazon reported record profit for the second quarter, at $5.2 billion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant steadily increasing sales for the delivery giant, according to Joy Bhadury, dean of Radford University’s Davis College of Business and Economics in Virginia. As more people stay home and are leery of stores, delivery operations like Amazon are thriving.
“Right now every county, every city would give an arm and a leg to bring in any company, so this is a wonderful thing for Mills River and the surrounding counties,” Bhadury said. “My prediction is this will bring in a workforce from surrounding counties, as well as the town, and that is good for the region as a whole — one tide lifting many surrounding boats.”
Wages are solid, not stellar
Lansdale said hiring for the Mills River site has not been announced yet. An Amazon hiring link had just two job listings for Mills River as of July 31.
Citing the Massachuessetts Institute of Technology “Living Wage Calculator,” which lists living wages for every county in America, Bhadury noted that the Amazon jobs are well above the $12.62 living wage threshold for a single adult worker in Henderson County.
Amazon’s $15 an hour minimum wage translates to $31,200 annually, assuming a 40-hour work week. Henderson County, which has a population of 121,192, has a projected per capita average income of $29,860 this year, according to the Partnership, the Henderson County Economic Development office. Buncombe’s per capita wage is $31,439, according the U.S. Census.
In short, the Amazon jobs are good solid employment, but they’re not going to have workers buying luxury cars and second homes.
“If one harbors hope this is going to lead to a Research Triangle Park in Mills River, that’s not going to happen,” Bhadury said. “Other companies will have to move in, too.”
Mills River, which still has a strong agricultural community, has seen a burst of economic activity lately, drawing a Bold Rock Cidery, Mills River Brewing, a Gaia Herbs expansion, Sierra Nevada Brewing, the GF Linamar auto parts manufacturing plant and The Riveter outdoor adventure center, among others.
The Mills River Amazon is located off N.C. 280, just a couple of miles from Asheville Regional Airport and Interstate 26. Airport spokeswoman Tina Kinsey said July 31 the airport “does not expect to see additional flight traffic due to the presence of the Amazon fulfillment center at this time, as it is a ground distribution operation.”
While Amazon has received criticism for its driving work schedule and average pay, Bhadury says the positives far outweigh any negatives. Having an Amazon distribution center also could garner the attention of other companies.
Warehousing and manufacturing operations have to consider factors including available workforce and nearby highway infrastructure, he said, but Amazon’s decision to locate in Mills River could grab the attention of operations looking to expand.
“Economic development honestly has a snowball effect,” Bhadury said. “Nobody can predict the growth curve, but an area that is growing, like Mills River, that will start showing up on the maps of (expansion and relocation) consultants.”
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