Amazon confirmed Wednesday it will begin operating a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Kernersville in 2020 with about 1,000 full-time and full-time- equivalent employees.
Amazon signed July 26 a lease for up to 40 years with Atlanta real-estate developer HPC Seefried for an industrial site off Old Greensboro Road inside the Guilford County limits.
Neither group had commented publicly on the facility until Wednesday, although landscaping and construction has been going on since August. The shell of the building appears to be near completion.
"We're at the point where the fulfillment center in Kernersville has reached certain levels of progress to where we can comment on our plans," said Rachael Lighty, regional manager of external communications for Amazon Operations.
However, Lighty did not reveal the expected opening date in 2020, saying the company purposefully withholds such information until it is within weeks of launching operations.
Lighty said Amazon would roll out a hiring and marketing blitz at that time. Information about working at an Amazon fulfillment center is at www.amazondelivers.jobs.
John H. Boyd, a national site-selection expert based in New Jersey, has projected the Kernersville fulfillment center could represent a $150 million capital investment.
Lighty did not have information on a second planned Amazon facility within Piedmont Corporate Park in Guilford.
An Amazon affiliate signed a lease April 16 with Samet Corp. affiliate LARS RE LLC, according to a Guilford Register of Deeds filing. The lease is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 30.
The property address is listed at 7941 National Service Road, on the southern right-of-way of the road and the western right-of-way of Piedmont Triad Parkway. The lot appears to contain 16.64 acres, according to the lease. The property has a Colfax address, but is in the High Point city limits.
North Carolina workforce
The Kernersville facility will be similar to the one Amazon opened in Kannapolis in July in that both will primarily handle bulky items that are 18 inches and larger. Those items can include items as varied as diaper boxes, kayaks and furniture.
Those fulfillment facilities are identified by Amazon as non-sorting centers. They are labor-intensive, but Lighty said the Kernersville facility will contain high levels of technology.
The vast majority of the Kernersville employees — more than 800 — will be involved in the picking, prepping, sorting and shipping operations. The rest will be facility managers and administrative staff.
Boyd said modern fulfillment centers “not only employ lower-skilled workers, like forklift operators, but also information-technology professionals doing inventory and other software-related functions.”
Lighty said the work shifts will operate on a four-day-on, three-day-off schedule at 10 hours a day. Although the facility will operate around the clock, two hours for maintenance is built into the daily schedule.
"There will be about 200 employees on site at any given time, seven days a week," Lighty said.
By comparison, Amazon is building two robotics fulfillment centers in Charlotte and Garner, each with about 1,500 full-time jobs.
The $200 million Charlotte facility will open by this year's holiday shopping season and will contain 855,000 square feet, while the Garner facility is scheduled to open in 2020 at 640,000 square feet.
When the Charlotte, Garner and Kernersville facilities are open, Amazon will have more than doubled its North Carolina workforce from 3,000 to 7,000.
Amazon has what it calls "sortation" centers in Concord and Durham that involve sorting products and packages for preparation for delivery, typically by ZIP code.
There are PrimeNow shipping hubs in Charlotte and Raleigh that stock a limited line of high-demand products for delivery within two hours.
In November, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, a decision that long-term could help set the bar for regional warehouse and distribution center pay, according to economists.
Part of growth strategy
Boyd said Amazon's opening of two Triad facilities is not surprising.
“Amazon recognized, under its new growth strategy, that it is shy of distribution centers in North Carolina,” Boyd said.
Lighty said its Triad plans are tied to the online retailer’s planned push to emphasize free one-day shipping for Prime members. The retailer told analysts in April it is “working on evolving” its popular Prime program.
The fulfillment center is near the FedEx Ground operations in Kernersville, as well as within 10 miles of the FedEx sorting hub at Piedmont Triad International Airport.
Amazon has not made a public request for local or state economic incentives, Kernersville town manager Curtis Swisher said.
Amazon has asked for at least $13 million for the project near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Several employment studies have shown that working at an Amazon fulfillment center is not for everyone.
For example, Amazon makes it clear that the job can be taxing, particularly during the peak holiday shipping season. Workers can walk seven to 12 miles during a shift. Most employees must be able to lift up to 49 pounds.
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.