Online retail giant Amazon will hire 2,000-plus workers for its London-area plant when it opens early next year – about 500 more than originally planned, a company official told The Free Press on Friday.
Months away from opening, the centre being built on the site of the former Ford assembly plant south of London near Talbotville requires a larger workforce as demand continues to climb, said Amazon spokesperson Dave Bauer. “It’s an ideal location for us and the township (Southwold) has been very helpful. We will be creating great jobs in a location that’s very strategic for Amazon.”
The site on Highway 4, south of Highway 401, allows access to Highways 402 and 403, border points in Michigan and New York state and access to area airports, Bauer said.
At the “fulfillment centre,” as Amazon calls the plant, goods will be sorted, packaged and shipped to smaller sorting centres – two of which are now operating in London. From those centres, goods are shipped to customers’ homes.
Hiring likely will begin by year’s end, Bauer said. The plant will be looking to hire for all positions, from front-line operators sorting and packaging goods to management, he said.
The site was bought by Broccolini Construction, which has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Construction began in July 2021. Broccolini will lease the space to Amazon, Bauer said.
In addition Amazon has opened two sorting centres – similar to warehouses – in London at Huron Street and Robin’s Hill Road and at 580 Industrial Rd. Each of those centres employ about 150 people.
“We’re a very dynamic business. We look all across Canada to find the right spot. In this case, it’s a perfect fit,” Bauer said.
As for the workers, wages will start at more than $18 an hour and the company offers benefits and a matching retirement savings contribution plan, he said. But the announcement of an aggressive hiring strategy raises questions about the London region’s possible labour shortage.
The London area now has a low 5.3 unemployment rate and many in business and industry are worried about finding workers, said Kapil Lahotia, chief executive of the London Economic Development Corp.
In addition, Maple Leaf Foods will open a plant in London in 2023, needing about 1,500 workers, and other announcements about new industry are looming, he said.
“It’s great economic news, but there’s a talent shortage and the region is struggling to meet talent requirements and there’s more growth expected,” Lakhotia said
The LEDC is “aggressively targeting” talent recruitment as a priority to support local business, he said. “London is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada but this is not unique to London. It’s true across the province.”
This week Amazon opened a fulfillment centre in Hamilton with 2,000 workers and is planning on another in Whitby in 2023. It also has plants in Ajax, two in the Ottawa area and Scarborough. Amazon has 60 buildings across Canada including sorting and fulfillment centres.
The announcement by Amazon that it already is scaling up hiring is good news for the township that lost the Ford plant in 2011. Local officials are waiting to find out what property taxes will be paid to Southwold Township as an assessment has not yet been completed, said Grant Jones, Southwold mayor.
While the Ford plant was classified as heavy industry, an Amazon plant is not in the same classification so it will not pay as high a tax bill, but it will still be welcome, he said. “It won’t be all of what we received from Ford, but it will be quite a bit of it,” Jones said.
The township is planning on making investments in infrastructure to support its growing industrial base, he said.
“This gives us an opportunity to get us money for other projects, for another waste water treatment plant,” the mayor said. “We can place money in a lot of places. It has been 10 years since it (Ford) closed. We took a beating back then. We have recovered well.”
The township lost 18 per cent of its tax revenue with the Ford plant’s closing, about $300,000 a year. Elgin County lost about $600,000 and the province about $1.2 million for the area public school board, for a total of more than $2 million in lost tax revenue annually.
As Amazon spoke to The Free Press about its plans, it ends a tough 11 years of speculation about what might happen to the old Ford plant – none of which ever panned out.
At one point, a group called Blueforest Ventures Inc. of Waterloo proposed buying the site and turning it into a green energy and agri-food development. In addition, Railmark, from Wixom, Mich., wanted to buy the rail lines on the site and build a rail and truck transportation hub.
The Ford plant closed in 2011 after 44 years assembling cars, and about 1,100 people lost their jobs. The plant on 254 hectares was torn down in 2015. The site was listed for sale that year for $22.75 million.