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June 8, 2017 10:15 AM, EDT

Amazon to Hire 1,500 for New Oregon Fulfillment Center

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

Amazon will create 1,500 full-time jobs when it opens its fulfillment center next summer in Troutdale, the online retailer confirmed June 7.

The $178.4 million facility, where online orders will be filled, packed and shipped, will be the first of its kind in Oregon and provide a needed economic boost for the eastern Multnomah County community.

The 855,000-square-foot plant will fill vacant lots at the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park, occupying 74 acres between the Troutdale airport and a FedEx Ground facility. Construction will begin this year and wrap up by July 2018, the Gresham Outlook has reported.

FedEx ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

"Amazon's expansion in Oregon brings us great jobs with competitive wages and bright futures for its employees and communities," said Gov. Kate Brown, who visited the facility site June 8 with local and company officials.

Amazon's vice president of North America operations, Akash Chauhan, confirmed the number of jobs at the June 7 event.

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The Troutdale City Council unanimously approved a five-year tax break for Amazon beginning in 2019 worth about $9.6 million, The Outlook reported.

As a condition of building inside an enterprise zone – an area where companies are encouraged to build in exchange for a property tax break – Amazon has agreed to pay workers at least 125% of the minimum wage. Due to scheduled minimum wage increases, this means workers hired next summer would make $15 an hour, though the wage calculation may include health care benefits.

According to the governor's office, benefits packages for full-time employees also include a 401(k) retirement accounts, company stock awards and parental leave.

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In addition, full-time workers also get access to a program that pre-pays as much as 95% of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields. Workers can use the program to pursue degrees that have nothing to do with Amazon, including game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming, radiology.

Troutdale City Councilor Larry Morgan said he's been impressed by Amazon's commitment to healthy wages, comprehensive benefits and tuition assistance. "Not only is it world-class, it's a national model," he said.

The eastern portion of Multnomah County has struggled to recover from the Great Recession, he said.

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A 2016 presentation by the Oregon Employment Department shows that while overall earnings in Portland rose 13% between 2007 and 2014, earnings in East Portland declined 7%, and Gresham earnings fell 13%. Troutdale, which in 2016 had an estimated 16,617 residents, is five miles northeast of Gresham.

Employment numbers tell a similar story. While Portland saw a 10% growth in jobs between 2010 and 2014, East Portland only saw a 5% growth in employment, and Gresham saw a 3% boost. In addition, East County has the highest concentration of poverty in Oregon, with 25% of residents living below the poverty line. A quarter of Gresham's residents live in poverty, as well.

Often, residents move to the area for cheaper housing, only to find themselves commuting long hours or working low-paying jobs, Morgan said. The Amazon facility will give residents an opportunity to earn a living wage without leaving the community, he said.

"It's the best of both worlds," Morgan said.

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But the increased investment will inevitably bring challenges. Higher earnings likely will push home values up. Affordable housing will be the area's next challenge, Morgan said. In the meantime, Troutdale has plenty of land to sell to other companies looking to locate near Portland.

"It's just the beginning," he said.

Seattle-based Amazon reported nearly $136 billion in sales in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of all internet users, or 155 million, visited its website in the first quarter, MarketWatch reported this week, and its stock crossed the four-digit mark last week. The company is worth $479.4 billion.

Its other Oregon outposts include a sortation center in Hillsboro, a Prime Now hub in Portland and data centers in various Eastern Oregon locations. It also employs hundreds in downtown Portland through video-encoding company AWS Elemental.

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