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'Project Wildcat' to bring massive Amazon distribution center to Tucson

A planned Amazon warehouse on Tucson's Southeast Side could be as large as a million square feet, with hundreds of employees laboring for the online giant. Officials were tight-lipped, but sources confirmed that the project at the Port of Tucson is in the works.

Recent Amazon distribution warehouses around the country have ranged from 800,000 square feet and 1,000 employees to 1.5 million square feet and 2,000 employees.

Update, 5/16/18: Amazon confirms massive Tucson warehouse plans

The company, which has been criticized for its treatment of workers, has five distribution centers in Arizona: three in Phoenix, one in Goodyear and one in Tolleson. The company has about 7,000 warehouse workers in the state.

While economic development officials refused to comment on what sources said has been code-named "Project Wildcat," multiple sources confirmed on condition of anonymity that economic incentives have been discussed regarding the project, and that Pima County officials were reviewing documents. Sources said that contractors were already examining site plans for the enormous warehouse, and that it was being planned for the Internet retail behemoth.

The facility will be constructed at the Port of Tucson, a logistics center near Interstate 10 and South Kolb Road, sources said.

Port of Tucson, Pima County and other officials either did not immediately respond to requests for comment, or refused to do so.

"Pima County has no comment," spokesman Mark Evans said, declining to answer any questions.

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The county, the city of Tucson and the Sun Corridor regional economic development agency made a bid for Amazon's "HQ2" second headquarters last year, including the publicity stunt of offering to send a saguaro cactus to the company's main Seattle headquarters.

Despite that move, which garnered some national publicity as well as local mockery, Southern Arizona was one of 2018 potential sites that didn't make Amazon's short list of 20 to become the base for up to 50,000 high-paying headquarters jobs.

The company's request for proposals indicated that it was seeking a "significant population center" with a "highly educated labor pool" and "strong university system" for its second HQ.

Other Amazon jobs aren't so highly paid.

The company's labor practices were the subject of a lengthy expose by the Atlantic last month, "What Amazon Does to Poor Cities":

Workers say the warehouse jobs are grueling and high-stress, and that few people are able to stay in them long enough to reap the offered benefits, many of which don’t become available until people have been with the company a year or more. Some of the jobs Amazon creates are seasonal or temporary, thrusting workers into a precarious situation in which they don’t know how many hours they’ll work a week or what their schedule will be. Though the company does pay more than the minimum wage, and offers benefits like tuition reimbursement, health care, and stock options, the nature of the work obviates many of those benefits, workers say. ...

San Bernardino is just one of the many communities across the country grappling with the same question: Is any new job a good job? These places, often located in the outskirts of major cities, have lost retail and manufacturing jobs and, in many cases, are still recovering from the recession and desperate to attract economic activity. This often means battling each other to lure companies like Amazon, which is rapidly expanding its distribution centers across the country. But as the experience of San Bernardino shows, Amazon can exacerbate the economic problems that city leaders had hoped it would solve. The share of people living in poverty in San Bernardino was at 28.1 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which census data is available, compared to 23.4 in 2011, the year before Amazon arrived.  The median household income in 2016, at $38,456, is 4 percent lower than it was in 2011. This poverty near Amazon facilities is not just an inland California phenomenon—according to a report by the left-leaning group Policy Matters Ohio, one in 10 Amazon employees in Ohio are on food stamps. ...

As Amazon continues to grow at a rapid clip, more communities are in the same position as San Bernardino—desperate to attract new jobs, even ones that pale in comparison to past opportunities, in the absence of anything else. Although efforts to recruit new distribution centers garner less national attention than the race to attract Amazon’s HQ2— its second corporate headquarters, where the company is expected to add as many as 50,000 jobs—when added up, these other facilities create a large number of jobs. Amazon now has 342 facilities, including fulfillment centers, Prime hubs, and sortation centers, in the United States, up from 18 in 2007, according to MWPVL International, a supply-chain and logistics consulting firm. Amazon employed 180,000 people in the United States in 2016, and said last year that it planned to add more 100,000 full-time, full-benefit jobs by mid-2018. ...

At around $12 an hour, 40 hours a week, full-time jobs pay higher than many others in the region, and the benefits are also better than many other jobs in the industry. But workers are required to be on their feet all day, and receive scant time for bathroom breaks or lunch. They’re pressured to meet certain production goals and are penalized by getting “written up”—the first step in getting fired—for not meeting them, they say. They’re also allowed very little time off, and written up if they go over a certain amount of time off, these workers say, even if they get sick.

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An Amazon warehouse.