Ga. news: Jefferson Amazon facility reflects growing e-commerce investment

On Hog Mountain Road in Jefferson, just beyond a brand new warehouse facility and a yet-to-open business park, it stands: the 850,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center.

The e-commerce giant came to Jackson County a year ago, eventually bringing 1,000 full-time jobs to the northeast Georgia area.

It’s just the latest example of the e-commerce industry’s growing presence in the state. With the burgeoning demand to deliver products to consumers fast, new distribution centers are popping up all over Georgia, which boast the world’s busiest airport in Hartsfield-Jackson International and easy interstate access to other parts of the country.

In many cases, these aren’t traditional warehouses, said Georgia Department of Economic Development Deputy Commissioner Tom Croteua. They are far larger and more complex.

Warehouses built for e-commerce operations need more employees to undertake not only the shipping but the sorting and packaging of individual orders.

At the fulfillment center in Jefferson, product are held until they are ordered, packaged and shipped.

The warehouse utilizes navigation systems that lead employees directly to an item on the shelf and scanners that tell workers what size box to use for packaging items. These tools, along with everything else at the center, are oriented toward improving efficiency. Amazon makes promises of fast deliveries and customers expect items to arrive on-time, said Amanda Reed, site leader of the facility.

That need for speed is one the reasons Jefferson is appealing. Located directly off I-85, it’s within a two day’s drive of 80 percent of the U.S. population, said Jim Shaw, president and CEO of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jefferson is also 70 miles from Hartsfield-Jackson, and the Port of Savannah is four hours away by car.

“Upheaval in retail delivery has changed things throughout the country,” Shaw said. “Delivery in two days is the expectation these days.”

Amazon is not the only distributor that has found a home in Jackson County, and the region expects more companies to come. The county has 13 million square feet of speculative distribution and industrial space, Shaw said.

Shaw defined speculative space as space that has been constructed and is not yet occupied, is under construction, or is in the planning process.

Jackson County is small, but it is growing. The county has a population of 67,000. But, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Jefferson area is the nation’s second fastest-growing micropolitan area — defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as an urban area with between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

Jackson County and Douglas County are the leading counties in the metro Atlanta area when it comes to warehouse space, Croteau said. Gwinnett County and Henry County also have signifcant amounts of distribution facilities.

Jefferson is only the most recent place where Amazon has put down stakes in Georgia. The company has additional fulfillment centers in Lithia Springs, Union City and Braselton and plans to open another in Macon.

Croteau said he estimates new fulfillment facilities need around 80 employees more than traditional warehouses.

Increased spending on distribution centers is a trend seen nationwide. In 2017, warehouse construction spending in the U.S. reached a record $24 billion, according to Harver Analytics. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta points to e-commerce growth as a major factor in this spending hike.