Op-Ed: A Primer on the Amazon Deal
This Op-Ed written by Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership, appeared in the Feb. 7, 2021 edition of The Daily Times.
Since 2015, the Blount Partnership has collaborated with the cities of Alcoa and Maryville and Blount County government to generate eight major economic development announcements that totaled 3,270 jobs and $1.8 billion in capital investment.
Developing a successful community does not come easily. It takes the cohesive meshing of nonprofits, businesses and government to bring about positive opportunities to Blount County. That cooperation is unrivaled, not only in Tennessee, but nationally as well. It is this special blend that led Amazon to make Alcoa the home for its newest fulfillment center that Gov. Bill Lee proudly announced Wednesday.
Coming to fruition after many months of negotiations, the name behind the developer was finally revealed. The wrapping came off the package and what was assumed proved to be true. Blount County gained a huge employer that not only provides a solid starting wage and comprehensive benefits, but is known to be a major contributor in every community it joins.
Amazon is committed to supporting this community as it does everywhere it has located. It works side by side with community partners to find solutions and build long-term, innovative programs that have a lasting, positive impact. We look forward to working with its local leadership to ensure there are opportunities to engage with our educators through advanced robotics, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
But sometimes there’s confusion on how we got there. What is conveyed in the media is sometimes lost in translation. Even when facts are presented on paper and further discussed, what is presented to the public does not always fit the tone. To that end, here is information everyone should know about how the Amazon deal is structured.
First, Amazon is investing no less than $200 million in Blount County for purchasing the property, completing all its earth work, and constructing the facility. With that, Amazon is hiring no less than 800 full-time employees at a starting wage of no less than $15 per hour plus full benefits. It also has pledged to provide up-skill training for in-demand jobs.
Secondly, construction of the facility is to be completed by May 2022 and must be fully operational by fall 2022 in preparation for the upcoming holiday season. Moreover, the Industrial Development Board (IDB) will take possession of the entirety of Amazon’s assets and charge a lease back for use of its assets that is equal to the property taxes Amazon would have paid. This ensures that no property taxes paid by Blount County citizens are used for Amazon’s benefit.
The question about incentives always arises. People wish to know what was given up to gain such a prestigious company. A lot of times, there are tax breaks that make a deal happen. In this case, no local incentives were provided to Amazon from Blount County, the city of Alcoa, nor the IDB.
In fact, the IDB borrowed $12 million from Alcoa and Blount County to make roadway improvements to Cusick and Singleton Station roads to ensure that Blount County citizens are not impacted by Amazon’s logistic operations. Amazon’s lease payments to the IDB will be used to pay back the full amount.
Cusick Road improvements begin April 1, 2021, and are to conclude by May 31, 2022, while the Singleton Station Road improvements begin no later than October 2021 and are slated to be completed by October 2022.
Additional projects undertaken include completion of Blount County’s remaining section of the Blount-Alcoa-Maryville Greenway system linking it to Knoxville’s Greenway. That begins in spring 2021 with a completion date no later than December 2023.
Finally, public water and sewer line extension work around Cusick Road begins in spring 2021 and is scheduled to be completed by October 2021.
Let us not forget why Amazon chose Blount County. It did so because of our workforce resources, business-friendly atmosphere, top public schools, livability, and the opportunities for employees.
Furthermore, Amazon does not just ship to consumers across the globe; it also aids small businesses. Listing their products on Amazon helps increase their customer reach. As small businesses thrive, further job creation and spending are bound to happen.
Given that small businesses prosper by using Amazon, according to the economic update for the U.S. and Tennessee published by the University of Tennessee in January 2021, growth in tax collection in 2020 was significant due to online sales tax collections from companies like Amazon, companies that are being required to collect sales taxes for the first time. In particular, sales tax rose in 92 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, including in Blount County by 14%.
As shown above, Amazon is not asking to take anything away from the community other than its support. With that, it is willing to give back handsomely and has a track record of doing so, including a recently launched $2 billion Housing Equity Fund to create inclusive housing developments. With these facts in hand, we look forward to adding Amazon to our long list of successful businesses that call Blount County home.