Amazon celebrates opening of S.C. distribution center

Amazon fulfillment center floor PHOTO[13]
More than 1,000 people work at Amazon’s new, 1.25 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Lexington County. The facility, which hosted a grand opening Tuesday, operates 24 hours, seven days a week. The facility is large enough to hold every football field in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences and still have room left over for USC’s baseball stadium.

Staff Report
Published July 17, 2012

Nearly nine months after shipping out the first orders in its trademark brown cardboard boxes, Amazon on Tuesday hosted a grand opening at its new Lexington County fulfillment center.

The event, which included a guided tour of the 1.25 million-square-foot building and a catered barbecue lunch, turned out to be a celebration among state and local officials who pushed to get the Seattle-based e-commerce giant to build its first facility in South Carolina.

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“It’s a great day in the neighborhood, y’all,” said Randy Halfacre, president and CEO of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce, and one of the key figures in landing Amazon.

Halfacre and others on the speakers’ platform ticked off a laundry list of benefits reaped from Amazon’s decision to open the facility at the Saxe Gotha Industrial Park near the interchange of interstates 26 and 77.

At the top of their list was the $125 million Amazon has pledged to invest in South Carolina and its plan to create 2,000 jobs — marks the company must hit by the end of 2013 to earn the incentives offered by state and local governments.

The Midlands venture has led to Amazon’s announcement to build a $50 million, 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Spartanburg County that will create 390 jobs. Company officials expect to open the Upstate facility in time for the Christmas holiday rush.

However, the route to Tuesday’s celebration turned out to be full of unanticipated twists and turns, Halfacre and others said.

As part of the deal to land Amazon’s investment, state officials agreed to exempt the company from collecting S.C. sales taxes for five years.

The deal, though, was announced in December 2010 by former Gov. Mark Sanford and his Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor. A month later Gov. Nikki Haley, who opposed tax code carve-outs for specific businesses, said she wouldn’t back the deal.

When the House first voted on the measure, it was crushed.

Amazon, believing S.C. leaders had broken a promise, reacted by shutting down construction and threatening to take its investment and jobs elsewhere.

A few months later, though, the House reversed itself and the Legislature went out to approve the measure favoring Amazon. Haley agreed to let the bill become law without her signature.

Lexington County state Rep. Kenny Bingham, who serves as the House Majority leader, led the fight for the Amazon bill.

He remarked Tuesday that perseverance among Amazon’s supporters has paid off with thousands of jobs when South Carolinians needed them most.

“What an incredible, powerful thing it is to be standing on this site and think about the thousands of families who have jobs,” Bingham said. “The thousands of families, who have been positively impacted by the fact that they have a place to go, and a place to work in a quality environment, one that provides benefits and health care — things that we all desire in life.”

The successful Amazon venture proves that local and state leaders can accomplish something if they’re willing to work together for the common good, Bingham said.

“When we work together we are a powerful, powerful force,” Bingham added.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the Amazon deal created positive momentum for his agency, which has landed economic development deals leading to the creation of 25,000 new jobs and $7.5 billion in investments.

Those deals, Hitt said, are the result of local and state leaders’ willingness to work together.

“Everybody wins when a business prospect comes to South Carolina,” Hitt said. “Everybody wins.”

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