AMAZON AHEAD: E-commerce giant will be boon, but challenges loom, too

County officials are talking about road improvements such as turn lanes in the area near the new building Amazon will occupy. They are not yet talking about adding lanes, they say, because traffic counts don't meet the threshold. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

MT. COMFORT — Amazon’s plan to open an operations facility near Mt. Comfort leaves Hancock County officials with plenty to smile about.

The project is expected to create more than 800 jobs, draw capital investment and kick off the occupancy of a four-building logistics center being built on speculation.

As leaders welcome the news, they’re also thinking about road improvements and housing in the area.

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Amazon announced its intention on Monday to put an e-commerce fulfillment and distribution facility into the 660,384-square foot building under construction at 4498 W. County Road 300N. More than 800 full-time employees will receive and ship products to other Amazon fulfillment centers in the e-commerce and tech giant’s network.

Randy Sorrell, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said Amazon’s employment projection will put it in the top five for the number of workers at a single site in the county.

“This is a big project, and it is very exciting,” Sorrell said.

It bodes well for the county, he continued.

“Amazon being Amazon — a world-class company — when they decide when they want to come to a particular community, that speaks really well of the community,” he said. “It’s just a very positive thing for the county that we’ve been selected. It’s like getting the ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal of approval when they come. It lets everybody know that Hancock County is a good place to do business.”

According to Amazon’s website, businesses’ products arrive at fulfillment centers aboard semitrailer trucks. Robotic drive units moving inventory around the centers whisk ordered products to associates, who place them on conveyor belts for packing. A computer system scans and tracks progress along the way and weighs boxes after they’re packed. Boxes are then labeled and sent to waiting trucks based on their shipping methods, delivery speeds and destinations.

An Amazon spokesman said on Monday that on top of the company’s $15 hourly minimum wage, it offers full-time employees comprehensive benefits like full medical, vision and dental insurance along with 401(k) with 50 percent match, all starting on day one. Amazon also offers up to 20 weeks of maternal and parental paid leave.

As Amazon was getting ready to increase its minimum hourly wage to $15 in late 2018, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported the hike raised the stakes for competitors in central Indiana.

“If it does create upward pressure on wages, that just raises the standard of living of people living here in Hancock County,” Sorrell said.

And speaking of living in Hancock County, will it have the appropriate housing stock to accommodate an influx of workers looking to reside near their place of employment?

“That is a conversation that I’m a part of with the various planning authorities at the county level, at the city level and the towns,” Sorrell said. “I know housing for workers is a chronic problem. The brokers continue to tell us there’s not enough inventory. That’s not a problem I can specifically address, but demand drives supply, so as we get more and more workers, I’m sure that the people that build housing will find a way to address that.”

Gary Pool, chief engineer for the Hancock County Highway Department, said County Road 300N will be reconstructed this year between County Roads 500W and 600W, near the logistics center under way that Amazon will move into.

“We had a plan; we knew this was coming,” he said.

Pool added he’s applied for grant funding through the Indiana Department of Transportation to reconstruct 300N between 500W and 400W and add left turn lanes in that area. Awards for that round of grant funding will be announced this spring.

The county doesn’t have any immediate plans to add additional travel lanes in that area, Pool said. For that, the traffic count would have to rise to 20,000 vehicles a day, while it’s currently only at around 3,000 a day.

Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group is developing the building Amazon will soon operate out of along with three other speculative buildings for the logistics center on the north side of West County Road 300N and west of County Road 400W. The firm is investing $130 million in the project on a property spanning 166 acres.

“We are pleased with the upcoming delivery of our first building at Mount Comfort Logistics Center, and we are excited about the potential for job growth for the community,” said Scott Sanders, vice president of development for Ambrose Property Group, in a statement. “Ambrose is entirely focused on e-commerce and industrial development, both in Indianapolis and nationally and Mount Comfort Logistics Center aligns with our vision and business strategy.”

The building slated for Amazon will be complete this summer, Ambrose Property Group said in the statement. An Amazon representative could not be reached on Tuesday for comment on the company’s timeline moving forward.

In its statement, Ambrose Property Group also pointed to Mt. Comfort’s growth, adding the area is close to Interstate 70 and has a strong labor market with more than 276,000 households within a 25-minute commute.

The Hancock County Council approved a 10-year tax abatement on the development for Ambrose Property Group in late 2019, which will be a full abatement the first year before getting smaller over the years that follow.

The development marks a rising trend of large buildings built on speculation in the Mt. Comfort area.

Sorrell said he feels like the recent news involving Amazon validates that business model.

“It does show why developers are willing to invest in a spec building, that they have a pretty high level of confidence” they will secure tenants, Sorrell said.

The development is in Buck Creek Township, one of the townships that Hancock County Commissioner Marc Huber represents. He said he’s excited for the project, adding it will bring a lot of jobs that pay well.

“I think they’ll have some jobs out there that’ll pay pretty decent,” Huber said. “I think their benefits package is top-notch, from what I’ve heard.”

The project falls within the Hancock County Council’s District 2, which Mary Noe represents.

“I’m happy that we’re going to get a large employer in the county,” the councilwoman said. “I’m excited to see how many they’re going to staff and what the salaries are going to be. I’m excited to see that they will be hopefully one of our higher-paying jobs going into a warehousing-type facility.”

Like Sorrell, Noe feels like it substantiates the spec building approach so popular near Mt. Comfort.

“We seem to be getting good developers building a quality product that are luring in some big employers,” she said.

Amazon has invested more than $6 billion in Indiana since 2011, has about 8,500 full-time employees in the state and eight fulfillment or sorting facilities, as well as a Prime Now hub, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported late last year.

The company’s most recent development in Indiana was an $80 million distribution center in Greenwood that opened last year and is expected to employ up to 1,250 by the end of 2021, the IBJ reported.

Amazon’s fulfillment center in Whitestown in Boone County was completed in 2007, and an expansion was completed in 2010. Molly Whitehead, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corporation, told the Daily Reporter that the facility employs between 3,000 and 5,000 depending on the time of year. She added the fulfillment center is in one of the largest industrial buildings in the county.

It’s had a ripple effect by drawing companies to the area that have relationships with Amazon, Whitehead said.

She also pointed to Amazon’s partnership with the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority to provide bus service for employees. The hub for the Whitestown line is in northwestern Indianapolis and runs up and down Interstate 65. It has since expanded to include multiple pickup locations and businesses throughout that area.

“That’s been a good tool in helping us attract different types of businesses to the area too,” Whitehead said.

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“It’s like getting the ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal of approval when they come. It lets everybody know that Hancock County is a good place to do business.”

Randy Sorrell

Executive director, Hancock Economic Development Council

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Amazon coming to Hancock County

  • E-commerce fulfillment and distribution facility
  • 660,384-square foot building under construction at 4498 W. County Road 300N
  • More than 800 employees
  • $15 hourly minimum wage
  • Property owned by Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group