Amazon won't open its new highly automated fulfillment center in Loveland for several more months, but when it does, it will have 1,000 full- and part-time jobs or more to fill.
In a region that's stretched thin on workers, that could be a tall ask, but Amazon is confident it's got the right strategy, pay and benefits to staff the 3.5-million-square-foot robotic fulfillment center just north of Northern Colorado Regional Airport.
Amazon does an "intense labor analysis" in every region it opens a facility, and Northern Colorado is no exception, said Sam Bailey, Amazon's manager for economic development policy in the Mountain West region. The company is not just looking at Loveland, but Larimer and Weld counties, Wyoming and the Denver-metro area.
"This is one of most complex facilities. I'm confident we can be the employer of choice and meet people where they are," he said.
Larimer County's unemployment rate in October was 2.9%, well below the statewide rate of 3.5%, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Although Amazon has not set its Larimer County wages yet, its average hourly wage is about $19, Bailey said, with full benefits from day one and tuition reimbursement through its Career Choice program for employees looking to complete a high school diploma, get a GED, obtain an associate or bachelor's degree, or gain certificates in various fields or in English-as-a-second-language proficiency.
Kelly Jones, Loveland's economic development director, said she's most excited about the Career Choice program at the facility. "It raises the bar" for other employers who have to be more competitive, she said. "We're getting some heat from local (employers), but this facility was going to be within three to five miles of where it is" based on purchasing habits in the area.
Still, staffing is raising some concerns among existing employers who worry they'll lose an already thin workforce, said Adam Crowe, economic development manager for Larimer County's Economic and Workforce Development Department.
"When you look at the labor market and the shifts in generations over the years, boomers are retiring and there aren't as many workers as there used to be to replace them," Crowe said. "It's put pressure on the labor market."
Whether Amazon comes or not, every employer is struggling to find workers, he said.
A significant number of people decided to take nontraditional jobs during the pandemic, some are driving for ride-booking services, while others are working temp jobs or decided to start their own businesses.
Crowe said there's data to suggest the share of those in nontraditional jobs has risen from 20% or 25% to more than 35%. "It's not just that there are fewer people to pull on, but people are choosing different options," he said. They are more interested in flexibility, the ability to set their own hours or take time off to take their kid to the doctor.
There is also data to suggest they would be willing to rejoin the traditional workforce for the right pay and flexibility, Crowe said. "Meeting people where they are can be very attractive to folks, especially those looking for advance opportunities. 'If a company is willing to invest in me' — that, for younger employees, Gen Zers, that's very attractive to them. It's a smart thing to play up and talk about."
Amazon will likely pull some people from the nontraditional workforce to its doors and it can "attract people from their current employment," Crowe said. "It will come from those two places."
He anticipates Amazon will be able to fill the 1,000 jobs in Northern Colorado. "It may take a little longer ... but they will probably get there."
Amazon has reached out to the Larimer workforce center, and "we're ready and willing to help them staff up," Crowe said.
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He's also heard concerns from smaller employers in hospitality and retail about Amazon hiring some of their workers and about it increasing wages in the region even more. "The concern is there," he said. "Whether it happens remains to be seen. This has raised concerns and could create some challenges, but I'm not sure yet what they are."
Amazon staffed 2,500 jobs last year in a Colorado Springs facility about the same size as the new Loveland facility as it works to expand its presence to get merchandise to customers as soon as possible. The humongous fulfillment center relies on robots to do some things like moving shelves and also workers to help reduce the time it takes to pack an order.
About the hiring process
Bailey said the hiring process will begin "a few months" before the facility opens. But since an opening date hasn't been set yet, it's unclear when the hiring will begin.
The company posts its jobs on its own and other hiring websites, conducts in-person job fairs and connects with county and state workforce development teams, Bailey said. There are also virtual opportunities for interested people to see what a day in the life in a fulfillment center is like.
Editor's note: This story has a correction. The Amazon center is just north of Northern Colorado Regional Airport.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Amazon will have 1,000-plus jobs at Loveland, Colorado center