Amazon to expand Ruskin operation, creating hundreds of jobs

Amazon finished construction on the 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center last year and hired more than 1,000 workers to run it. The company left room inside for expansion.
Amazon finished construction on the 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center last year and hired more than 1,000 workers to run it. The company left room inside for expansion.
Published May 6, 2015

RUSKIN — Whether it comes to selling books or video games or tortilla chips, Amazon always has a plan.

Now the world's biggest online store is ready to execute the next phase of its plan in southern Hillsborough County: Amazon announced Tuesday that it will double the operational capacity of its massive Ruskin warehouse and add hundreds of full-time jobs.

"This was always the plan," said Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey. "But now the timing is right."

Amazon finished construction on the 1.1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in September and hired more than 1,000 workers to run it. The facility, at 3350 Laurel Ridge Ave., near Interstate 75 and State Road 674, has shipped millions of packages since.

But the company left room inside the cavernous $200 million building — it's 10 times the size of the average Home Depot — to one day expand its ability to store and ship even more stuff to customers across Florida and the world.

The Seattle company decided the time for that expansion has come, Lindsey said. Hundreds of temporary construction workers will also be hired and work has already started inside the warehouse.

Amazon is adding more computer systems, conveyor belts, robotic mechanisms and storage facilities. But the company would not say when it expects to finish construction, when it will start adding full-time workers or how many it will hire.

"What we're doing now is adding additional inventory space to increase the amount of items we're able to store in the fulfillment center," Lindsey said. "That means we'll be able to increase our selection in the region, which will allow us to offer the super-fast shipping speed that Amazon customers expect from us."

Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman applauded Amazon's plans to add even more jobs. That's exactly why county officials paid heavily in public incentives to lure the company here.

In 2013, the County Commission approved $6.4 million in property tax breaks over seven years. Together with the state, the county offered another $1.1 million to attract high-wage jobs.

"They knew that by being the first one, the lead, they would be the catalyst for change," Murman said. "That's what makes it so exciting"

Ron Barton, Hillsborough assistant county administrator for economic prosperity, said county officials toured the facility a few months ago. He said Amazon appeared to be using just half of the building and that it could eventually double its Ruskin workforce.

"It wouldn't surprise me that the building could one day employ 1,500 to 2,000," Barton said. "But that peak would be seasonal. It will ebb and flow."

The 1,000 or so jobs Amazon brought to the area has already helped fuel the growth of Hillsborough County's southern end and attracted residents who might not otherwise have come to the area.

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"People are falling in love with our community," said SouthShore Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Morrison. "People are coming here from other areas and discovering what's down here."

Murman said Amazon has done more than just provide jobs and a needed economic boost.

"They're participating in the Firehouse Cultural Center, the chamber's events, and they're becoming an integral part of every activity that goes on down in south county," Murman said. "I think it's commendable on their part that they actually lived up to everything they said they were going to do once they got there."

Frances Hereford, a lifelong resident who works at the cultural center, said Amazon's presence has been a positive one.

"I can't think of a better asset for this area to have right now," Hereford said. "None of us like the traffic, but we sure want the jobs."

Murman said the area's infrastructure does need more attention. The roads are overcrowded, poorly maintained and there is scant public transportation. That will eventually happen once the county puts together a comprehensive transportation plan.

"Their growth even furthers the need for transportation improvements in that area," the commissioner said. "We're going to have many, many projects to help people move around the area, and not just on the commercial side but residents will be able to move around better."

Hillsborough County's ultimate goal is to leverage the success of Amazon to attract other distribution centers to the area. That could create a hub of warehouses that will create thousands of new jobs.

"Success begets success and I think that's what we're seeing here," said Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans, "and I think it's also going to send a strong message to other distribution centers that this is a good market not only because of its proximity to Port Tampa Bay, but also because it's the gateway to all of Central Florida.

"This gives us a strong story to tell."