Amazon in Fall River brings jobs with distribution center

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FALL RIVER – – the world’s largest retailer – is just months away from opening a new distribution center in Fall River, pumping at least $50 million into the project and delivering hundreds of new jobs to the beleaguered mill city.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think it’s job opportunities for people in this area,” said Linda Pereira, vice president of the Fall River City Council. “I can’t wait for them to open their doors.”

Plans call for the facility to open in the fall, and with an estimated 500 to 1,000 much-needed jobs will potentially double the number of local opportunities for work in the city. Last month there were an estimated 982 openings available in the city, according to the Fall River Office of Economic Development, a private organization. The project will provide a welcome boost in the city, once a center of New England’s now shrunken textile industry.

Those are mainly just the year-round job figures. During busier periods, such as the holiday shopping season, Amazon’s workforce could swell to 2,000, according to state estimates.

The average salary Amazon is expected to pay will be about $35,000 a year, according to a Boston Globe report. Amazon has said it would offer a full benefits package as well, including company stock awards.

While Massachusetts has rebounded from the past recession, in terms of the jobless rate at least, Fall River is among the state’s mid-sized cities that continue to struggle. Last year, its unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent, according to a report from the Pioneer Institute, while the statewide average fell from 5.1 percent in March 2015 to 4.9 percent in December, government data show.

Amazon’s project is an important part of the city’s plan to rebuild its local economy through greater diversification, according to Ken Fiola, executive vice president of the city development organization.

“Clearly the fact that we have Amazon that’s coming to Fall River represents a significant step for our city in continuing to diversify our economy,” Fiola said in a recent interview.

That broadening of the economic base is signified by Amazon’s location – in the city’s Southcoast Life Science and Technology Park. The new 1 million square-foot building will occupy about 75 acres in the park, according to Fiola’s group.

The facility will be Amazon’s first fulfillment center in Massachusetts. Inside, workers process orders for any packages larger than a microwave oven, according to Fall River’s Herald News newspaper. Amazon also has a sorting facility in Stoughton.

The development deal came together last year after Fall River nearly lost its bid to host the distribution center, Pereira said. She credited city officials, Fiola, and the state for fighting to bring the project and its jobs to the area.

A combination of local and state tax incentives helped seal the deal.

At the state level, $3.25 million in tax credits were approved in March 2015 through the state Economic Development Incentive Program. Locally, Fall River is contributing $7.8 million in tax increment financing (TIF) over 15 years, a funding mechanism that uses expected new tax revenue from the development to cover associated infrastructure costs. The adjacent town of Freetown, in which some of the facility’s land is located, agreed to chip in another $3.8 million in TIF funding.

Amazon itself will be making a “minimum capital investment” of $50 million in the center, according to the local development group. But the Seattle-based company won’t start paying the full annual property tax until fiscal 2033, when the exemption expires, the group says.

When the project was announced a year ago, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said it would provide a “much-needed economic boost” to the city and region. The development is also being welcomed in New Bedford, another mid-sized South Coast city 14 miles to the east.

“Successes in Fall River are good for New Bedford and successes in New Bedford are good for Fall River,” Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Development Council, said in an interview.

Like Fall River, New Bedford has struggled to overcome the loss of an historic manufacturing base, chronically high unemployment rates, and widespread poverty. As both battle for a better future, Santos said their efforts complement each other’s, rather than compete.

As an example, he noted that New Bedford has managed to hold onto one of its historic industries, commercial fishing. But New Bedford has no large undeveloped urban industrial parcels on the scale that Fall River has, with its numerous disused textile mills.

Santos expressed hope that some of those 1,000 new jobs Amazon is bringing might go to New Bedford residents. “The cities are only 12, 13 minutes apart by drive. So if there’s a great job in New Bedford and I live in Fall River and I’m qualified, fantastic. And that same thing happens in reverse.”