Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Hillsborough optimistic about Amazon, despite statewide competition

RECOMMENDED READING


Amazon dropped big news last month when it announced plans to open distribution centers in Florida for shipping books, electronics and other consumer products.

The online retail giant said it would invest $300 million and create more than 3,000 jobs, many of them paying more than the state's average wage.

What Amazon didn't say was, "Where?''

Cities and counties across Florida were quick to extol the virtues of their communities. Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency, got inquiries from every corner of the state, each wanting an Amazon facility.

Hillsborough officials are cautiously optimistic they've got a winning bid with a mix of incentives, ready-to-build space next to an interstate and a workforce looking for jobs.

"I'm optimistic Amazon is coming to Hillsborough County," County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said. "In my conversations with our economic development folks and Amazon's representatives, I believe Amazon wants to be in Hillsborough County and will be in Hillsborough County."

Both Hillsborough and Polk counties have approved financial incentives to lure a warehouse to Ruskin and Lakeland, respectively. Jacksonville, Orlando and Winter Haven have also expressed interest.

Seattle-based Amazon isn't saying much about its plans but is working with Enterprise Florida and local jurisdictions to find the most suitable sites in terms of available real estate, workforce and accessibility to interstates. A decision on locations is expected around July 31, with construction to start in October.

"There are a lot of factors they are looking at,'' Enterprise Florida spokesman Sean Helton said. "We're working with them to find the perfect fit.''

The sheer size of Amazon's "fulfillment centers'' — 1 million square feet, about the size of the Tyrone Square Mall — limits the choices. Few sites can accommodate the building, let alone have space for trucks and employee parking.

"When you're building a 1-million-square-foot building, you don't say, 'Here's where I want to be,' " said Jan Boltres, managing director of industrial services for Colliers International Tampa Bay. "You say: 'This is the best available site that could accommodate us. These are our options.' "

Financial incentives, while important, aren't typically a deciding factor for large projects, he said. Companies often choose a location but don't disclose it until after the incentives are finalized to ensure they get some form of assistance.

Hillsborough commissioners okayed one of two incentives last month and are scheduled to consider the rest of the $6.4 million package Wednesday. This week, Polk County officials approved $4.5 million in property tax incentives over 10 years.

"That sounds like a lot of money, but when you start factoring in the cost of the building, the land and the employees, the number becomes lost in the rounding,'' Boltres said. "If it was $50 million, that would begin to affect their location analysis.''

More significant is being close to customers. Amazon currently has to ship orders to Florida from out of state, making it difficult to do next-day delivery or start grocery service. Creating a physical presence in Florida would require the retailer to start charging sales tax for local purchases.

Building a distribution center in central Florida makes sense over places like Jacksonville, particularly when it comes to reaching the large South Florida market, said Bill Eschenbaugh, a Tampa-based land broker. A truck driver could potentially deliver a load from Ruskin to Miami and back in one day.

If urgency is a factor, Eschenbaugh thinks Hillsborough has the edge in landing the first fulfillment center. The proposed Ruskin site at Interstate 75 and State Road 674 in the mostly vacant South Shore Corporate Park has the infrastructure in place for a new building.

Hillsborough County Economic Development Director Ron Barton notes that Amazon approached the county about the location, not the other way around.

"This company has spent a significant amount of time with us," Barton said, perhaps more than any he can recall in 30 years working in economic development. "It doesn't mean the deal is done. But it tells me this site, this community and this business proposal have merit to them."

Amazon hasn't said how many fulfillment centers it wants in Florida, but it would most likely be more than one, based on the employment and capital investment figures Amazon cited in its June announcement with Gov. Rick Scott. Proposals from Amazon say the Ruskin warehouse would cost about $200 million and employ 1,000 workers. The Lakeland center would cost $100 million and add 385 jobs.

It's also unclear whether Amazon would want distribution centers in neighboring counties, but it's quite possible.

Amazon's distribution centers likely will receive and ship goods using trucks, rather than rail, which is generally used for shipping vehicles and commodities. It also could get goods brought in on cargo ships and hauled by trucks to a fulfillment center.

Tampa Port Authority officials said the port is well-positioned to serve distribution centers in both Hillsborough and Polk counties. The port already receives cargo ship containers of furniture for Rooms To Go along I-4 and goods for Bealls department stores, based in Bradenton.

Experts agree an Amazon facility in central Florida would have far reaching benefits for the region, regardless of its specific location. Just the big household name would grab the attention of companies looking to build distribution centers.

"This is going to have regional impact,'' said Boltres of Colliers. "It's not that one county loses and one county wins.''

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

Comments
Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

Barricades reinforce security for holiday events on St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront

Times Staff Writer ST. PETERSBURG — World and national tragedies are changing the city’s approach to security for special events at North Straub Park.With the approach of the holidays, concrete barricades have been erected at a section of the park’s ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Eight women say Charlie Rose sexually harassed them - with nudity, groping and lewd calls

Eight women say Charlie Rose sexually harassed them - with nudity, groping and lewd calls

Eight women have told the Washington Post that longtime television host Charlie Rose made unwanted sexual advances toward them, including lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.Th...
Published: 11/20/17
St. Petersburg council okays restaurant deal for Manhattan Casino

St. Petersburg council okays restaurant deal for Manhattan Casino

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council on Monday approved a lease for the Manhattan Casino, a landmark building in the city’s historic African-American business and entertainment community.It was a controversial decision for some of the city’s black resid...
Published: 11/20/17
Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

Tampa Electric, contractor fined $43,000 in gas leak

APOLLO BEACH — The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tampa Electric $18,108 and gave the company two "serious" citations for its response to a gas leak at the Big Bend Power Station in May, the agency announced late Friday.T...
Published: 11/20/17
Forecast: Florida retailers expect strong holiday shopping sales

Forecast: Florida retailers expect strong holiday shopping sales

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, and this year is expected to be particularly kind to retailers.The Florida Retail Federation’s holiday shopping forecast predicts that a combination of high consumer confidence, strong tourism numbers and a littl...
Published: 11/20/17
Up for sale? Activist investor grabs stake in Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands

Up for sale? Activist investor grabs stake in Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands

TAMPA — If you tread water too long in the same spot, someone might start asking why you’re not trying to swim somewhere.Tampa’s Bloomin’ Brands — parent company of such prominent restaurant chains as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and ...
Published: 11/20/17
Glenn Thrush, New York Times reporter, accused of sexual misbehavior

Glenn Thrush, New York Times reporter, accused of sexual misbehavior

The New York Times said Monday that it was suspending Glenn Thrush, one of its most prominent reporters, after he was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.The move came after the website Vox published a report containing allegations that Thrus...
Published: 11/20/17
Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Most air travelers say taking off your shoes is okay. An etiquette expert disagrees

Unless you are ensconced in first class, sleeping on a plane is as intimate as dozing off in a waiting room on jury duty — everyone on the aircraft knows the decibel level of your snoring and the sad state of your socks.To gauge how passengers percei...
Published: 11/20/17

Stolen car crashes in St. Pete, leaving passenger, 15, with life threatening injuries

Two boys in a stolen car struck a dip in the roadway and crashed into a tree, leaving the 15-year-old passenger with life-threatening injuries, St. Petersburg police said.The crash occurred about 11:25 a.m. Sunday as the car sped west on 11th Avenue ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Updated: 10 hours ago