The opening of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in southwest Fresno last year has meant much more to the city of Fresno than the addition of thousands of new jobs, Mayor Lee Brand said Wednesday at a grand opening ceremony heralding the facility.
Amazon built an 850,000-square-foot, $200 million facility that employed as many as 3,000 during the winter and helped reduce Fresno’s unemployment rate to 4.8% — “the lowest in the city of Fresno’s history,” the mayor said to enthusiastic applause from the dozens of public officials and Amazon staffers at the ceremony.
“But more importantly, you put Fresno on the corporate map,” he said. “Suddenly, we’re getting much more interest. Since Amazon came, it’s been good for Fresno.”
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City’s Gamble on Incentives Paid Off
Brand said city leaders first had to figure out that the old way of doing business wasn’t working.
“For Fresno, for so many years … businesses drove by, they flew by, we were passed up, until we finally got smart and decided to build an industrial park that all the infrastructure was in, (that was) shovel ready,” he said. “We developed financial policies to incentivize business to come to Fresno. And we did land Amazon, and we appreciate Amazon choosing Fresno.”
Brand, joined by Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria, Luis Chavez and Miguel Arias — a longtime critic of the city’s financial incentives for Amazon — presented a city certificate of recognition of the center’s grand opening to General Manager Ankush Pole. Arias has said Fresno should aim higher with its incentives than lower-wage jobs like the ones Amazon provides.
Marking the grand opening of the Amazon Fulfillment Center are, from left, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Fresno Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, Councilman Luis Chavez, Fullfillment Center General Manager Ankush Pole, and Councilman Miguel Arias. (Jamie Ouverson/GV Wire)Pole said the scheduling of the grand opening more than a year after the center started operating is traditional for Amazon, which typically waits until its centers are up and fully operating before holding such events.
The center at 3575 S. Orange Ave., which opened in June 2018, now employs more than 2,500, Pole said. He led news media and local officials on tours of the vast center, which has four floors of operations that cover the equivalent of more than 14 football fields. Even so, it’s smaller than older Amazon centers, where workers sometimes had to walk 10 to 15 miles daily while selecting inventory for shipment to customers, Pole said.
More Robot Jobs on the Way?
Fresno’s center was designed with smaller aisles for the orange “bots” that use radio transmitters to find large storage bins full of inventory and carry them quickly to workers who load items into yellow bins before sending them on for packing and distribution. The Fresno center contains as many as 25 million inventory items ready for shipment to customers in the Fresno region.
A Brookings Institution report on robotics issued in January said 1 in 4 jobs in Fresno are at “high risk” of being automated by 2030, with another 4 in 10 jobs at medium risk. The report based its conclusions on the city’s high number of jobs suitable to convert to automation and the relatively low level of college-educated adults.
When Pole was asked if any of the jobs now held by people at the Fresno center might one day become automated, Amazon spokeswoman Dani Tafoya responded that they could not speculate on that because they don’t know what kind of automated capabilities the company might be testing.
But, Tafoya said, “we have promised that we’re going to be putting more money and effort into training the associates in our buildings to learn how to have other jobs in those automated fields,” including software engineering and robotics.
“There is more effort from Amazon to educate the workforce that’s already here (in Fresno) because we have noticed that there is a little bit of a gap there,” she said.
Amazon Gives to Fresno Unified STEM Education
Amazon is a strong supporter of local education efforts, said Daniel Smith, director of the Amazon Business education division. Amazon recognizes that teachers, who often spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on school supplies, can be assisted through deliveries of supplies that arrive more quickly — days instead of weeks — and less expensively than in the past.
Smith then presented Kurt Madden, chief technology officer for Fresno Unified School District, with a $10,000 “community partnership” check to assist with STEM education. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.