Amazon is in the process of setting up another last-mile distribution centre in Winnipeg after announcing its first one in October.
Construction is underway at the old Coldstream building at 1001 Regent Ave. W. and according to the City of Winnipeg’s listing of construction-related building permits, Amazon’s name is on a number of jobs related to that property.
When that building was listed for sale a few years ago it was characterized as a 160,000-square-foot building.
But one Winnipeg real estate professional said that part of the building was taken down and the permits includes one for "partial demolition… (including) removal of 3,379 square metres… including two sections of the building".
Although Amazon officials did not respond to requests for comment and a number of real estate professionals have signed non-disclosure agreements, it is not the best-kept secret. There have been several mentions of the project on social media and elsewhere.
When Amazon announced its first Winnipeg distribution centre – in a 113,000-square-foot building on Plymouth Street in the Inkster Industrial Park -- there was plenty of chatter that the company was not finished in Winnipeg.
At the Innovation and Economic Development Committee at City Hall on Monday, Dayna Spiring, the CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, said EDW was supporting "two Amazon distribution facilities."
"This is great news for our airport’s growth in cargo and also solidifies our central location advantage," she said.
The company has been on a torrid pace opening distribution and fulfilment centres around the world, perhaps as many as 100 last year and just as many scheduled around the world for this year.
In September it announced that it would be building two fulfilment centres— creating 2,500 jobs -- and five distribution location in southern Ontario. That would bring the number of larger fulfilment centres to 16 in Canada. Those larger operations in Hamilton and Ajax are 855,000- and one-million-square feet respectively. A distribution centre in Nova Scotia has also been reported in the past week.
"They seem to be moving in and planning to have a good investment in the community. Anytime we have that, it is a welcome thing especially given the potential long–term effects of COVID." – Transcona councillor Shawn Nason
Sources say that the Transcona operation – like the one in Inkster Industrial Park – will likely create around 300 jobs split about half and half between inside workers and independent contractor delivery people.
Amazon’s strategy is to locate the centres in areas that would allow for delivery times of between 35 and 40 minutes and to be situated close to customers and a potential work force.
Shawn Nason, the Winnipeg city councillor who represents Transcona, acknowledged that he has spoken to Amazon officials and is excited about the development in his ward.
"They seem to be moving in and planning to have a good investment in the community," Nason said. "Anytime we have that, it is a welcome thing especially given the potential long-term effects of COVID."
There are already job postings for operations manager and human resources business partner, presumably for the new centre.
"I do look forward to them joining our community," Nason said. "I look forward to the opportunities that our local business may see... and to our residents for employment."
According to past discussions with provincial government officials, the province tries to encourage large retailers and distributors to consider setting up distribution operations in the city because of assets like CentrePort, the presence of a number of large trucking firms and a 24-hour airport that is able to accommodate increasing cargo plane traffic.
Amazon has been in the news lately about workplace conditions at some of its large distribution centres. Workers at one location in Alabama recently voted against forming a union and two fulfilment centres in Ontario were partially closed over the weekend by health officials to control COVID-19 outbreaks at those workplaces.
After the union battle in Alabama, company founder Jeff Bezos acknowledged that Amazon has to do better for its workers and vowed to make Amazon a safer place to work.
Bezos made the promise two weeks ago in his annual letter to shareholders. He said he didn’t take comfort in the outcome of the recent union election in Bessemer, Alabama, even though workers there overwhelmingly rejected a union.
"I think we need to do a better job for our employees," said Bezos, who will be stepping down as CEO later this year and will become executive chair of the online shopping giant.
- with files from Joyanne Pursaga and Associated Press
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.