While working full-time elsewhere, Jamila Brady took a seasonal job at Amazon to pick up some extra cash and pay off credit cards.
“It was hard work, but it was fun,” she said.
Eventually, she quit Amazon but soon realized she was “miserable” in her high-travel, pressure-filled job in software sales. She reapplied at Amazon even though it meant “a huge drop in pay.”
“I missed Amazon,” said Brady, who holds a supervisory job at the Amazon delivery station that opened last year off Lanier Islands Parkway in South Hall. “I missed the environment, the fun we were having.”
Many are split in their views of Amazon and what has been described as the “Amazon effect,” or changes to the U.S. retail market, both in sales and wages, because of the e-commerce boom led by the online shopping giant. That boom has been magnified by the number of home deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2018, a move now being debated in Congress for all American workers, some believed it would pressure other companies to lift pay levels as well — particularly rival retailers and warehouse employers.
“This is going to be a big deal for very low-wage workers,” Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based economic think tank said at the time. “It’s going to compel other businesses to raise wages as well.”
However, Bloomberg News said in a December 2020 report that an analysis “of government labor statistics reveals that in community after community where Amazon sets up shop, warehouse wages tend to fall.”
According to Georgia Department of Labor data for Hall County, updated in December 2020, the average weekly wage for “goods producing” is $901 per week — $879 for the manufacturing/processing component. The weekly paycheck at $15 per hour is $600.
However, “there are only a few large warehouse/distribution facilities in Hall” on the scale of Amazon, said Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development.
“In the last 10 years, many, many warehouse/distribution facilities have located in Jackson County due to the location/proximity to the I-85 corridor,” he said.
Still, Hall County — and South Hall in particular — is experiencing an industrial boom, much of that in distribution centers and warehouses.
An unnamed company is looking to build a distribution center on 80 acres off Falcon Parkway/Ga. 13 in Flowery Branch. Grading began this week at the site.
Also this week, a Fortune 300 company was mentioned as one of two prospects for industrial space in Oakwood for the purpose of “distribution and manufacturing.”
Evans said that recruiting is far from “one-size-fits-all” and is highly competitive among employers.
“Hall County has a labor draw area of more than 860,000 in the workforce, but we also have a low unemployment rate. There are about 100,000 jobs in Hall County, and manufacturing and healthcare businesses make up almost half those jobs,” he said. “Employers and human resource managers have to be on top of their game to recruit and retain the best employees, and wages are not the only motivation for changing employers.”
Jimmy Adams, president of The Adams Companies and Corporate Storage, said that Amazon’s presence is a concern in retaining employees, but attracting them in the first place in Hall’s tight job market is the larger challenge.
“In our environment, you can’t go on any major road without seeing a ‘Help Wanted’ sign from a lot of our manufacturers and the larger employers,” he said. “All of us are competing for the best talent that’s in the market.”
Phil Sutton, Kubota Manufacturing of America Corp. vice president, said there was some concern among businesses in the Jefferson area, where Kubota has a distribution center, when Amazon announced it was paying $15 per hour at its Jackson County facility.
“We saw a few — not a lot, it wasn’t a big exodus — who left, but after a fairly short period of time, they came back because of the work environment,” he said.
Amazon has frequently been in the press over allegations of grueling work conditions.
In 2018, employees at a Minnesota plant said they had experienced exhaustion, dehydration and injuries while working without air conditioning.
Amazon defends its workplace online, pointing out that its minimum wage is “more than double the federal minimum wage” and that “we also invest in employees’ success.”
“Amazon will spend over $700 million to provide free skills training to employees — helping them further their careers in tech and in-demand roles such as cloud computing,” the company said.
From her perspective, Brady said, “I think Amazon is great for anyone who wants to get started with their career, who wants to change careers, anyone who just wants to grow … and it’s not just warehouse work.”
Kyle Hawkins, a warehouse worker at Corporate Storage at 1750 Atlanta Highway, Gainesville, said he’s content in his job.
He said he enjoys the customer service aspects of his work, but also “the atmosphere.”
“It’s a little variety every day,” he said. “I’m very happy here.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.