AMAZON.COM'S INVESTMENT COULD REINVIGORATE A SLICE OF WAKE COUNTY LEFT BEHIND IN THE REGION'S WEALTH.
Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams walked to the front of the council chambers, grabbed the lectern and beamed at the crowd on an August day. In a fast-growing region filled with transplants with thin connections to their new communities, Williams is a Garner native who went off to Vietnam and came back to dual careers at the post office and in public service, including 20 years as a town councilor and mayor since 2005.
"If it looks like I've got a smile on my face, I do," Williams began. "Today, I'm happy to announce that Amazon is coming to Garner!"
Amazon.com is investing $200 million in a 2.6-million-square-foot distribution center with 1,500 jobs, scheduled to open next year in the Wake County town abutting southeast Raleigh. It's one of hundreds of facilities that Amazon has built or announced across the nation over the last five years, in pursuit of ever-faster delivery as it reinvents retail.
"This is a great day for Garner," proclaimed the mayor.
And yet ...
Some four weeks later, up in Washington, D.C., Sen. Bernie Sanders filed a bill aimed squarely at Amazon's labor practices. The Stop BEZOS Act (Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies) contends that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has become fabulously rich in part by underpaying his vast army of warehouse workers, forcing many to rely on food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid. The Vermont senator proposes taxing companies an amount equal to the federal assistance their workers receive.
When the Gamer project was announced, the rate for most employees was pegged at $12.50 an hour, about half the median wage in Wake County. In early October, Amazon boosted its national minimum wage to $15 an hour, in the $31,200 range annually, still well below Wake's average. (A similar-sized Amazon facility is under construction near Charlotte's airport.) But the senator would benefit from understanding why Garner is so happy to have Amazon.
First, consider the site where the center will be built and its tragic story. Jones Sausage Road winds two lanes through a rural-ish stretch of Garner, population 31,000, between Interstate 40 and Highway 70. The road's namesake company eventually ended up in the hands of food giant ConAgra Brands Inc., which employed 440 to make Slim Jim meat snacks.
In 2009, an explosion tore through the plant, leaving four dead and dozens injured. Two years later, ConAgra...