Halfway there; Commissioners OK tax breaks for Amazon jobs - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Halfway there; Commissioners OK tax breaks for Amazon jobs

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Hamilton County Commissioners have approved incentives for e-tailer Amazon.com with few questions.

Amazon.com has pledged to create almost 1250 permanent jobs and as many as 2500 seasonal employment opportunities, provided it can break ground by the end of this year, and have its fulfillment center running in time for the 2011 Christmas shopping season.

For Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham, Amazon.com's pitch is a no-brainer.

"It's not digging a ditch and it's not cutting trees," he says."I mean it's in an air-conditioned building. These are wonderful family jobs with family benefits."

The giant e-tailer has pledged to hire at least 1249 permanent workers, if the incentives package comes together to build a 1 million square feet 'fulfillment center' at the Enterprise South Industrial Park across from the new Volkswagen Assembly plant in Hamilton County.

"The employment related payroll would be in excess of $49 million a year," says Amazon.com Policy Director Fred Kiga. "That does not include the 2,000-2500 potential seasonal hires."

Amazon has agreed that the average fulltime worker's yearly pay will be about $30,500.  That's a stipulation of the PILOT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) proposals that the Chattanooga City Council and the Hamilton County Commission have approved.

Under the PILOT agreements, Amazon.com gets the 80-acre site at Enterprise South, and won't have to pay property taxes on its real estate improvements or equipment for 11 years.

It will pay school taxes and storm-water fees, but the guesstimates on the tax savings range between $10 million and $12.7 million.

Amazon.com is seeking state grants and/or reimbursements to cover the costs of training its Hamilton and Bradley Counties workforces.

"Ergonomics is a huge component of what the initial training is," Kiga says. "You have to learn how to lift and bend properly."

Economic developers began courting Amazon.com in late August, according to Trevor Hamilton, with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. The e-tailer sent a survey team to Enterprise South in early September.

"I'm still losing sleep because we're working hard right now to close up these loose ends," Hamilton says.

Among those, Bradley County's component. Amazon.com is seeking tax breaks and development help for 116 acres near Charleston, just off the I-75 exit and Lauderdale Memorial Highway. The land requires rezoning; it abuts several upper-end homes on Thurman Drive.

Bradley County Commissioners will vote on the issues December 6.

Hamilton is hopeful that Tennessee's component will come together shortly afterward.

"I think we're gonna go Godspeed and try to do it (construction and hiring) in 9 to 10 months," Kiga says.

"There might be some job fairs to pre-qualify; but I would imagine applications would be taken sometime mid-year 2011."

Amazon.com would expect applicants to have completed high school or have received a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). They also will be subject to criminal background checks.

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