1 of 9
James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Michael Taylor, general manager of Amazon's new Utah fulfillment center, and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski stand before members of the media during a tour of the new facility in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. The 855,000-square-foot facility will employ over 1,500 full-time workers, shipping smaller items to customers.

SALT LAKE CITY — With bright yellow paint, high ceilings and robots zipping across sprawling floors, Amazon's newest distribution center in Salt Lake City evokes a tech Wonka factory.

Just a few weeks away from bringing the facility on line, Amazon officials showed off their near-finished warehouse Monday, with hard-hatted, orange-vested city officials in tow.

"We obviously get a tremendous amount of inventory," said Michael Taylor, the general manager of Salt Lake's distribution center. "This facility deals primarily with smaller items that we pick, pack and ship to our customers."

Taylor demonstrated some of the distribution center's processes on a short tour of the still-active construction site. Beginning with inbound delivery, he said products will be brought inside the warehouse and dropped in yellow pods — either for storage or immediate delivery.

James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Michael Taylor, general manager of Amazon's new Utah fulfillment center, and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski stand before members of the media during a tour of the new facility in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. The 855,000-square-foot facility will employ over 1,500 full-time workers, shipping smaller items to customers.

Taylor said Amazon has 50,000 of these small yellow bins in the new distribution center.

When in operation, 6,000 "drive units," robots that look like oversized orange Roombas, will carry the stacks of yellow pods to Amazon's workers.

"We'll have associates working at stations like this," Taylor said, motioning to fenced off workstations with computer screens, "to either store that inventory, or to pick it for a customer order."

From there, Taylor led Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other city officials along the elaborate distribution maze, ending with spiral slides that drop packages into the hands of workers to place on trucks, bound nationwide.

Amazon will hire some 1,500 people to staff the new distribution center in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant, and about 1,100 applicants have received job offers, according to Michael Taylor, the general manager of Salt Lake's fulfillment center.

City and state officials have been courting Amazon since 2017, offering the company an eight-year, $5.7 million tax incentive.

James Wooldridge, Deseret News
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski signs a robot that will be used at Amazon's new Utah fulfillment center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. The 855,000-square-foot facility will employ over 1,500 full-time workers, shipping smaller items to customers.

Gov. Gary Herbert said at the time that snagging one of the world's most valuable retailers was a feat.

"To have a company like Amazon, as big as they are, choose Utah for a fulfillment center is a great win for us," Herbert said. "It's a big shot in the arm for Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the state."

Before touring the new warehouse Monday, Biskupski also lauded Amazon and its decision to become a tenant of Salt Lake City.

"Salt Lake City is proud to welcome Amazon to Utah," Biskupski said. "And we are grateful this incredible new space is nearing completion."

"I think its fair to say that Salt Lake City definitely provided 'Prime' service to Amazon to ensure you can be shipping on time," Biskupski said.

The incoming associates will receive "great wages" and "fantastic benefits," according to Taylor, despite starting wages that suggest otherwise.

Amazon's online job posting for new associates — the positions that represent the majority of the new hiring in Salt Lake City, according to an Amazon spokeswoman — advertises a starting wage of $12.50 per hour. That's an earning rate that falls far short of the state's median wage of just over $17 per hour.

A worker who puts in a year's labor will earn them a flat $26,000 — over $20,000 shy of Utah's $46,460 median annual wage.

While the overwhelming majority of the new Amazon jobs will hover near the low level, a portion of them will exceed the average Salt Lake County annual earnings of $50,537, or about $24.30 per hour.

Utahns not applying but still hoping that Amazon's presence in the Beehive State would mean they could get their packages faster will have to wait and see.

"I don't really know the impact," Taylor said of faster ship times in the state. "Obviously, we see enough continuing, growing demand from our customer base here in Utah, that in order to satisfy it, we need to have a fulfillment center here."

Amazon officials were also hard-pressed to say what the expected economic impact of the new warehouse could be, besides their incoming large swaths of hires.

"The reason we don't have numbers on Utah is because we're brand-new here," said Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Lynch. "The longer we're in Utah, the longer we'll be able to see the impact of Amazon's presence."

Biskupski, already optimistic about Amazon's arrival, hopes the tech-giant will improve the state economy in other ways than employment.

"I'm kind of hoping, at some point, Amazon teams up with Packsize to decrease the size of their boxing," Biskupski said. "Packsize is right here in this neighborhood — so maybe there's an opportunity there for them to partner."

The mayor also said she thinks Amazon's presence will drive up the minimum wage in the state, "even though this state has refused to shift the minimum wage in the state for over a decade."

"Partners like this will drive opportunities to get a living wage across the state," Biskupski said.

Biskupski also mentioned the tuition program available to Amazon's incoming Salt Lake employees as an example of the company's ability to help its workers.

13 comments on this story

Upon reaching the one-year mark, employees become eligible for the company's Career Choice program, which provides up to 95 percent, prepaid tuition compensation for vocational or technical training or pursuit of associate-level degrees for "in-demand" jobs.

Those include aerospace, information technology, computer science, health care and others, and the program does not require a commitment to stay with Amazon on completion.

The $250-million regional fulfillment center will join over 100 warehouses across the country once it begins operation in the coming weeks.