Transportation for workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J., could have been a case study for officials in Shakopee, where Minnesota’s first fulfillment center opened this year.
After opening its first New Jersey warehouse in 2014, the online retail company altered shifts last holiday season for its 4,000-member workforce with minimal communication, according to Timothy McGough, community and economic development director. Transportation for employees hadn’t been adequately discussed — and rush-hour traffic was backlogged for hours on the nearby interstate highway all December.
“It was a disaster,” McGough said. “The day after Christmas, we said, ‘That’s not going to be acceptable. You’re going to have to come up with something else.’ ”
Amazon then created a shuttle service, which McGough called “a delight.”
The scenario shares common themes with the company’s Shakopee fulfillment center: lack of communication and significant workforce additions in a low-density suburban community amid low unemployment — about 4 percent in Minnesota.
Earlier this week, Amazon announced that it’s hiring 1,000 more full-time workers — on top of 1,500 already at its Shakopee fulfillment center. City and county officials are still assessing reliable transportation options for existing employees since the center opened last summer. Moreover, key people who helped bring the company to town didn’t even know about the pending staff additions.
Amazon is one of several companies, including Shutterfly and Imagine Print Solutions, that recently have created industrial jobs in Shakopee.
Scott County set a goal to have at least half of its growing workforce to live there by 2030. Until then, many employees must commute from the surrounding Twin Cities area. That puts pressure on transit and elected officials to design reliable connections and avoid nightmarish traffic jams.
Suburban transportation authorities, including Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and SouthWest Transit, have created bus routes to help shuttle workers directly to Amazon’s doorstep. Transit authorities must test the market and evaluate whether they can sustain that level of service, said Lisa Freese, Scott County transportation planning director.
Amazon itself runs three shuttles from neighboring suburbs, according to spokeswoman Nina Lindsay, though she couldn’t say which ones.
The county’s transportation committee has increasingly looked toward the new employers in Shakopee to help fund “last-mile” solutions, or connections from public transportation stations to workplaces. “One of the difficulties is it’s just a crazy variety of trips that are trying to serve a lot of employers and shifts,” said County Commissioner Jon Ulrich, who oversees transportation.
City Council Members Mike Luce and Jay Whiting, who have worked with the company and visited its site in Robbinsville during early negotiations, each said they didn’t know about Amazon’s additional hires. “I’d be surprised, I guess, if they can get that many workers,” Whiting said. “But I guess there will be more of a demand, and wages could go up, which is a good problem to have.”
Shakopee’s economic development director, Samantha DiMaggio, agreed. She said she didn’t know that the new Amazon jobs were permanent rather than seasonal hires.
“I think this is probably the first time in Shakopee’s history that we’re importing workers and not exporting workers,” DiMaggio said.
Natalie Daher 612-673-1775