Amazon gets $20M incentives package for Gwinnett fulfillment center

Tax incentives and infrastructure improvements offered to lure a new Amazon warehouse to Gwinnett County will cost taxpayers about $19.7 million.

Tax incentives and infrastructure improvements offered to lure a new Amazon warehouse to Gwinnett County will cost taxpayers about $19.7 million, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Officials with the Georgia Department of Economic Development on Monday released details of the inducements offered to the e-commerce giant — nearly six months after the project was formally announced, and with construction on the 640,000-square-foot facility already well underway.

The information, requested under Georgia open records law shortly after the project’s announcement in July, was released following a brief meeting of the Gwinnett County Development Authority. That authority unanimously approved a $2 million Regional Economic Business Assistance (REBA) grant offered by the state.

Georgia open records law allows government officials to keep information on economic development deals secret until they determine that a binding commitment has been reached.

The grant was just one piece of the package that helped bring the Amazon facility with its 1,000 promised jobs to West Park Place Boulevard just south of U.S. 78, in the shadow of Stone Mountain.

Other incentives offered by the state included a $6.25 million job creation tax credit and about $4.4 million in sales tax savings for the purchase of machinery. Through its economic development arm Partnership Gwinnett, the county ponied up close to $3 million for site preparation that includes sewer and road improvements — as well as a six-year property tax abatement valued at around $3.6 million.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Kemp declined to comment Monday night. Representatives from Partnership Gwinnett could not immediately be reached.

Officials have touted the project as a $237 million investment by Amazon.

Construction of the facility — known as a fulfillment center — began months ago. Steel beams, concrete and a sizable retention wall already loom over the surrounding area.

The vast majority of the site is in southern Gwinnett County, though a portion crosses over into neighboring DeKalb. A spokesman for Decide DeKalb, the county’s economic development entity, said it did not offer any incentives toward the Amazon project.

If the fulfillment center indeed houses 1,000 workers, Amazon would become one of Gwinnett County’s largest private employers. Most workers will pack and ship customer orders, though the company has previously said employees will also be hired to handle finances, information technology and other roles.

Plans for the project first emerged in 2018, under the code name "Project Rocket."

Gwinnett's county commission approved the necessary height variance for an 80-foot-tall warehouse on the site in September of that year. A few weeks later, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal that would've allowed for a third entrance to the facility through part of that county — stalling the project for months but not killing it.

Speculation swirled around the project but Amazon wasn’t confirmed as the end-user until July 2019, when Kemp touted it as proof that Georgia remained “a leading competitor for investment from the world’s most revered companies.”

An Amazon official boasted at the time that workers would have “industry leading pay and benefits on Day One.”

Incentives documents listed the expected average annual earnings for warehouse employees at about $32,500.

Greg LeRoy is the executive director of Good Jobs First, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank that tracks government subsidies and incentives.

In an interview prior to details of the Gwinnett Amazon deal being released, LeRoy argued that “subsidizing an Amazon warehouse makes absolutely no sense anywhere.”

He said Amazon’s ever-increasing delivery demands mean they likely would have come to the state anyway; that the jobs they create are really just “churned” from other retail establishments and warehouses; and that the jobs aren’t desirable despite the company’s $15-an-hour “minimum wage.”

Journalism outfits like the Atlantic, the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica have produced extensive work spotlighting the physical toll and safety concerns that surround Amazon distribution centers and their workers.

“They’re not as good as existing warehouse jobs, and they’re simply going to dislocate some retail jobs,” LeRoy said.

Residents living near the future Amazon facility in Gwinnett and DeKalb have also expressed concern about the noise and traffic that will come with the warehouse, which is slated to include 65 loading docks, 200 truck parking spaces and 1,800 employee spaces.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recommended about $15 million of road improvements in the surrounding area, which is already an oft-congested thoroughfare.

A portion of the REBA grant approved Monday will go directly to the Georgia Department of Transportation for improvements to the U.S. 78 ramp at West Park Place Boulevard, officials said. The remainder will be used to reimburse the Amazon developer for improvements they make to surrounding county roads.