Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and local elected officials got their first glimpse Thursday at New England’s first Amazon fulfillment center.
The center opened in June 2015 and now employs about 800 people who work in concert with hundreds of robots developed by Amazon Robotics. The robots zoom around a 1-million square foot warehouse floor and retrieve pallets of inventory for humans to pack into boxes at individual packing stations.
Those boxes are then sorted and packed into tractor trailers for what Eric Powell, the facility’s general manager, described as a game of Tetris.
“As you can imagine, shipping air is something that we don’t like to do,” Powell said.
When an individual clicks the “buy” button on Amazon’s website, the signal goes to one of the robots, which then finds the most efficient path to retrieve the item from the warehouse floor. Those products are then packed by Amazon associates.
The robot-centric facility is off Day Hill Road past a handful of old tobacco sheds. It is one of 50 similar Amazon warehouses in the United States.
The company also has a sorting center in Wallingford, which groups items by zip code for delivery.
The state gave Amazon a break on sales tax on construction of the building and Windsor gave the company a five-year tax abatement package, which amounted to about a $3.9 million tax break. The company also received a reduction in building permit fees.
In 2013, Amazon agreed to start collecting sales tax from Connecticut residents and remitting it to the state.
Malloy joked that Amazon is a place where his wife, Cathy, “spends a lot of our money.”
In all seriousness, Malloy said Connecticut must be doing something right for Amazon to open the first New England facility in the state.
“We have an abundance of great talent here,” Powell, who started with Amazon in Arizona, said.
Malloy made to sure to ask the workers where they lived as he made his way through the facility. He ran into workers from Stafford and Hartford, who told them they were happy with their jobs.
Windsor Councilman Al Simon attempted to get the company to agree to hire local labor, as a condition of the tax abatement. He got the AFL-CIO to support his efforts, which eventually failed.
Simon was not at Thursday’s “grand opening,” however, Amazon made a point of saying that its “associates” are offered medical and dental benefits on their first day on the job and the company offers a matching 401K. It also pays for about 95 percent of the tuition costs for its employees to return to school after that employee is with the company for more than a year.
Also as part of Thursday’s event, the company presented two local food banks with enough money to cover 11,000 meals.