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Editorial: Amazon's vote of confidence

For Western New York’s economy, good things come in packages large and small.

Amazon looked before it leaped into Western New York with a package sorting facility in Lancaster in 2017. The company liked what it saw and will now put a $25 million warehouse and distribution center in the Town of Tonawanda.

The online retail behemoth was a pioneer in one-day delivery, a feature included in its Amazon Prime membership program. Consumers embraced the convenience of ordering items online, developing a seemingly insatiable appetite for fast delivery.

A story in The News on Saturday pointed out that Amazon now has 152 delivery stations, where packages are stored, sorted and shipped out on their “last mile journey” to the customer. Ten more stations are in the works, including the Town of Tonawanda site, a 117,000-square-foot building planned for TM Montante’s Riverview Solar Technology Park.

Construction is already underway at the site, with completion targeted for the end of 2020.

Hundreds of part- and full-time workers will be needed at the 117,000-square-foot delivery station. Entrepreneurs who want to start their own delivery services will also get a chance to deliver for Amazon under its Flex program.

Amazon’s starting wage is $15 per hour, more than minimum wage but not enough to draw workers away from higher-skilled occupations. An unspecified number of the jobs in Tonawanda will be full-time, the rest part-time. Part-time jobs come with few benefits and the usual trade-off for employees of more flexibility but less job security. And were Amazon to hire only full-time workers for its centers, it would employ fewer people, by far. That’s the reality of life in the gig economy.

The Tonawanda project represents private development with no government money needed to prime the pump. Amazon did not seek tax breaks, nor was it offered any known government incentives. It needed a shovel-ready site, which it found at the Montante industrial park.

No tax breaks means that bringing another Amazon center to our region carries almost no risk. Any job that the Tonawanda facility creates that did not exist before is a net gain for the region.

Walmart, Target and several grocery store chains have developed delivery options in response to competition from Amazon. As consumers develop an expectation for speed, Amazon will continue to expand. It is said to be developing new distribution centers outside of Albany and Syracuse. Grand Island is mentioned as yet another possible Buffalo-area location.

Warehouses and loading docks are not glamorous, though they carry echoes of Buffalo’s manufacturing past. As Invest Buffalo Niagara’s Alan Rosenhoch told The News last week, anything that’s bringing our region new jobs to grow our tax base is a positive development. That’s especially true when those jobs come without the lure of public incentives.

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