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Regional ‘job hub’ could supply workforce for massive warehouse planned west of Spokane

In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, file photo, Mark Oldenburg processes outgoing orders at Amazon.com's fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash. As speculation swirls around Amazon’s possible involvement in plans for a massive warehouse near the Spokane International Airport, a regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department says the region’s workforce could easily accomodate an operation on such a scale. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, file photo, Mark Oldenburg processes outgoing orders at Amazon.com's fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash. As speculation swirls around Amazon’s possible involvement in plans for a massive warehouse near the Spokane International Airport, a regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department says the region’s workforce could easily accomodate an operation on such a scale. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

Amazon remains mum about whether it’s behind plans for a massive warehouse facility near the Spokane International Airport.

But if the distribution center is built according to specifications on file at Spokane County’s Building and Planning Department, the project would launch next year as one of the region’s largest employers.

About 2,300 people would work at the 24-hour fulfillment center, with designated shifts to process incoming and outbound packages, according to information in a traffic study.

During the peak holiday shopping season, the number of employees would swell to nearly 3,000. The opening date for the facility is forecast for fall 2019.

Could Spokane’s labor market meet the demand for that many workers? Absolutely, said Doug Tweedy, a regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department.

Tweedy – who hasn’t had any contact with the employer – spoke hypothetically about the local labor market’s ability to provide the potential hires.

“Spokane is a job hub,” said Tweedy, attracting workers from parts of 11 less-populous counties in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. “When we get a development of any size, people commute in.”

Within a 40-mile radius of Spokane, about 23,000 people are looking for work, he said. Balancing the length of the commute is the challenge people often have in finding work in rural communities.

In northeast Washington, Stevens and Ferry counties have some of the highest rates of unemployed workers in the state. In April, Stevens County’s unemployment rate was 8.1 percent. Ferry County’s was 13.5 percent.

Locally, the Spokane-area labor pool also includes college students, who often look for part-time jobs, and the spouses of graduate students, who need to work while their partner is in school, Tweedy said.

Last year, the average wage for Spokane County was $46,562, or about $22.39 per hour, for a full-time worker.

Eastern Washington University’s community indicators project calculated what a single adult must earn to afford a decent, one-bedroom apartment in Spokane County. In 2017, that amounted to $26,120, or wages of about $12.58 per hour.

The fulfillment center would be built on nearly 80 acres southwest of the Spokane airport on the north side of Geiger Boulevard. The primary structure would have a footprint of 639,000 square feet, but the multistory building would encompass more than 2.5 million square feet.

If Amazon is indeed behind the project, many of those jobs could start in the $12-per-hour range, with health care benefits and a 401(k) match, according to job postings for other Amazon fulfillment centers. Applicants must be 18 or older, with a high school diploma or equivalent.

In Portland, the company is advertising wages of $14.95 per hour for fulfillment center leads, a beginning supervisory position.

If the warehouse jobs do provide health insurance and a 401(k) match, “those are positives,” helping balance the lower-than-average wages, said Patrick Jones, director of EWU’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis.

Getting hired at an Amazon fulfillment center appears to require high levels of physical fitness and ability to work in challenging conditions. In a video, Amazon says employees get “a workout on the job,” along with tuition assistance.

Employees handle boxes that weigh up to 49 pounds, according to Amazon job descriptions. They have to be able to push, pull, squat and reach. They could be walking or standing for 10 to 12 hours. Even with climate controls, temperatures could exceed 90 degrees, particularly for people working inside trailers on hot days. At times, mandatory overtime is required.

The physical requirements are identical across job categories at Amazon’s fulfillment centers.

Starting workers have to be able to perform in those conditions, according to the job postings. So does an operations manager with a graduate degree who oversees 300 hourly workers.


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