- Amazon’s growth over the past year, largely in small towns, has been nothing short of historic.
- Locals are pushing back as Amazon burdens communities and fails to deliver on promises of job growth.
- Communities should be skeptical of Amazon coming to town, and question possible ulterior motives for the growth.
- Jason Boyce is the author of The Amazon Jungle and founder of Amazon managed services agency, Avenue7Media. Previously, Boyce was an 18-year Top 200 Amazon seller.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Amazon’s growing presence in states across the country — at a time when many local businesses are struggling to survive — has been part of its historic building spree amid the pandemic. But in its drive to supercharge its delivery capabilities, there are more serious and concerning underlying consequences for local communities. This historic growth should serve as a clear warning: Amazon’s rapid expansion is about building up its ability to crush anyone who stands in their way — and is worthy of a closer look.
Amazon has upended modern consumers’ expectations for delivery speeds and changed the nature of the way we buy goods. Yet the impact of Amazon’s relentless pursuit of faster and faster shipping can be seen in communities across the country. From Tolleson, Arizona to Carteret, New Jersey, Amazon has been able to stretch its reach to every nook and cranny of the US in an effort to own the final mile, now with more than 800 active facilities. Unfortunately, far too many of these communities — often small and rural towns — have failed to recognize the consequences of Amazon’s domination until it’s too late.
Under the guise of job creation and long-term economic growth, the company provides a rosy picture for local and state leaders that it has nothing but good intentions. However, communities should heed the warning of the Inland Empire — a region in southern California mainly consisting of farmlands, where Amazon is the now largest private employer in the region with more than 40,000 workers and counting.
Horror stories from Amazon’s front lines — from a lack of proper protections against COVID-19 to breakneck production quotas — show that perhaps, in its pursuit of operational perfection, Amazon appears to have lost any sense of ethics and humanity.
Even after the pandemic is over, Amazon’s tight grip on these local communities will still be felt. Those in the Inland Empire have grown increasingly dependent on the company as their main source of income. For instance, the fertile farmland in the Inland Empire was replaced with massive distribution centers, resulting in the loss of the region’s unique character and connection to its community.
Or take Campbellsville, Kentucky — from local businesses struggling to compete, to Amazon profiting off deals with schools, to jumps in local taxes to offset shortfalls due to subsidies awarded to Amazon — the company’s presence has weighed heavily on the community. Communities in other regions that Amazon now calls home can expect much of the same.
Locals are putting their foot down
Yet it’s Amazon’s workers who continue to pay the ultimate price for this massive expansion. While Amazon has tripled hiring to meet demand for parcel delivery, unlike many of its delivery peers, it has done so by forgoing safety trainings and protocols — putting its drivers in danger. Meanwhile, fulfillment center workers are worked to the bone, and are now being forced to sign up for “megacycle” shifts — which often run for more than ten hours and begin in the middle of the night — at the risk of losing their job.
When you do the math, the financial “benefits” of Amazon coming to town still don’t cut it. According to the Economic Policy Institute, counties often fail to see employment growth after Amazon opens a fulfillment center. This still hasn’t stopped state and local government from offering Amazon millions of taxpayer dollars through lucrative subsidies. These incentives are a drain on budgets, many of which are now cash-strapped due to an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Taxpayers have no choice but to front the bill for their community’s own demise.
It should come as no surprise then that towns and cities nationwide are increasingly putting their foot down against Amazon’s expansion, demanding that the company steers clear of their neighborhood. For instance, in North Andover, Massachusetts, protestors are rallying against the development of a new Amazon delivery facility project, which they say will harm nearby businesses and undermine the community.
The business incentives for Amazon to expand its logistics operations are clear. But one also has to question possible ulterior motives behind its massive spread in this space. Amazon is already able to provide breakneck delivery to customers in every state nationwide. Does the company really need fulfillment centers in far-flung locations like Fargo, North Dakota or Alcoa, Tennessee?
Or could it be that the company is borrowing from the old defense contractor playbook, and that these are simply thinly-veiled efforts to cozy up to lawmakers in all 50 states on the promise of job creation — especially with antitrust legislation knocking at its door? Whatever their goal is, it’s clear that it will upend the lives of local businesses and workers nationwide.
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