Leadership from Amazon visited southeast Baltimore last week, promising over 1,000 full time jobs at the company’s fulfillment center currently being built near Broening Hwy. and Holabird Ave., on the former site of the General Motors facility.
Amazon’s million-square-foot facility, with 8 miles of belt and 10 million unique items onsite at any given time, is slated to open in September 2015.
About 60 residents and community leaders turned out for an informational meeting at Zion Baptist Church of Christ, 1717 Broening Hwy. The meeting mainly focused on employment opportunities and community relations, as well as a couple other concerns such as truck traffic.
Guy Kalbach, who will be responsible for staffing the fulfillment center, said that there would be two main job categories–warehouse associates and lead warehouse associates–at the center. Warehouse associates, Kalbach said, would need a high school education and “excellent attitude.”
“We want someone who feels fortunate for who they are and can bring a great work ethic to the center,” he said.
Kalbach said that lead warehouse associates do not manage people, but are “direct leaders” and “key individuals” at the fulfillment center.
Additionally, Amazon will be looking for staff to fill support roles in human resources, IT and operations management.
He added that hiring events, such as job fairs, would be staged locally.
“They won’t be 40 miles away,” he said. “We’re here for a reason.”
Kalbach also touted Amazon’s Career Choice program, which he said gives associates “every opportunity to succeed.” The program analyzes the area, he explained, to find careers that are particularly in demand, even if they are outside of the Amazon fulfillment center.
“Amazon doesn’t pay tuition reimbursement,” he said. “We actually pay for portions of that education up front.”
“Our priority as an employer is to provide you that opportunity, whether or not you decide to stay with Amazon.”
Stan Kluska, of Amazon’s operations team, said that the fulfillment center will be in operation seven days a week, with several different shifts, many of which will be four days a week, 10 hours a day.
Dave Amiton spoke briefly about Amazon’s involvement in orchestrating transportation options for employees. These options, he said, could include car pool programs, enhanced public transit, possibly shuttles, and other options. He said that Amazon is currently talking with the Maryland Transit Authority to modify bus schedules to better suit future employees.
Mike Grella, director of economic development for Amazon, said that the company had decided to set up a Baltimore location “to meet the new business in Baltimore.”
The location, he said, will “allow people to be a little lazier around Christmas and holiday time.”
Grella also spoke about how Amazon might benefit the surrounding community.
“We want to provide a platform for economic development, community development and long-term partnership,” he said.
Grella said that Amazon could provide a new platform for small businesses. He mentioned that he had earlier sampled some chocolate-covered strawberries made by a local woman.
“You want to sell chocolate-covered strawberries?” he said. “You can sell them on the Amazon website to 150 million customers instead of just selling them to a local audience.”
After the presentation, residents were invited to ask their individual questions.
Elaine Welkie, president of the Bayview Community Association and also chair of Southeastern Neighborhoods Development, an umbrella group of community associations in the eastern part of southeast Baltimore, asked if delivery by drone was a future possibility for the Baltimore site.
Braden Cox, Amazon’s government affairs director, said that the idea is currently under review by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It’s mostly a federal issue,” he said. “We want to continue testing and see what the future holds.”
Celestine “Babe” Grabowski, head of the Graceland Park Improvement Association, asked about truck traffic to the neighborhood.
Kluska replied that Amazon is working with the MTA on that issue.
“We’re walking through that with them and making sure we need to follow everything they need from us for us to be there,” he said.
Grella said that the facility would have dedicated transportation lanes, and over 100 docks, to keep trucks from lining up. He also said that local political leaders were monitoring the situation.
“They’ve got hawkeyes on what we’re doing, and I can assure you they’re all looking out for everyone’s best interest. As we are.”
Shirley Gregory, head of the St. Helena Community Association, which covers an area both in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, said that with all the talk of city jobs, she hoped jobs would also be available to county residents.
“You’re so close to Dundalk,” she said.
“We’re not hiring from one area or group of residents at the expense of another,” replied Grella, though he added that Baltimore City’s Mayor’s Office of Employment Development will be Amazon’s primary contact for hiring.
Gregory also asked if the fulfillment center jobs would be union or non-union.
“Unionization is up to our employees themselves,” responded Grella. “We think the best route for our employees is to have an open dialog with them, and we favor that approach.”
Yvonne Turner-Moore, a resident of Emerson Village, told the Guide that she believed that Amazon’s presence would be positive for the community.
“Them coming, I think, is going to bring a lot back to Baltimore,” she said, though she added that she was “a little disappointed” that there would be no jobs for accountants.
by Erik Zygmont