Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lebanon lands center announced plans Thursday to open a 500,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Lebanon, promising to create hundreds of full-time and seasonal jobs before the end of this year.

It’s one of three sites the company has announced it will open in Tennessee that are expected to create 1,200 new full-time jobs for the state. The other two sites are planned for Chattanooga and Cleveland. The firm has said it plans to open at least one more facility.

“Obviously, we’re pleased somebody is going to grow jobs in Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at a stop in Spring Hill. “This is something they’ve been working on for a while.”

But the arrival of the world’s largest online retailer to Middle Tennessee has not been without controversy over a deal to excuse it from a state sales tax. The deal continues to divide lawmakers, anger business owners and vex Haslam, who inherited a deal that was largely cut in private by his predecessor, ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen. Haslam has said in the past that his administration is committed to the deal made by his Democratic predecessor that would not require Amazon to collect sales taxes from its online customers. He subsequently has said that the federal government should resolve the question of whether online retailers must pay sales taxes.

Some Tennessee lawmakers have opposed such a deal, arguing that the online retailer’s presence will be big enough in the state to require it to collect sales taxes from its customers.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said he plans to reintroduce legislation that would clarify when online retailers like must collect sales tax in the next legislative session. But McNally said he would be willing to compromise by delaying the effective date of the measure for two years.

Republican colleagues — who represent the three legislative districts where Amazon has said it plans to open — have opposed McNally’s offer.

Retailers such as Walmart and Autozone also have opposed providing Amazon a break from collecting sales taxes as well, arguing that it would give Amazon an automatic advantage over big-box and small-business owners who are required to pay the tax. Bill Hubbard, the Nashville-based attorney for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, has said the opponents are considering filing a lawsuit.

So far, there has been no resolution of the tax issue.

Officials are ecstatic

In Lebanon, officials were ecstatic about the prospect of Amazon coming to town.

“If they hire 500 people, then we have 500 opportunities now for someone to put food on the table,” Mayor Philip Craighead said.

The site at an existing warehouse along State Route 840 at 14840 Central Pike is Amazon’s third facility planned for Tennessee this year.

Along with the two other sites in East Tennessee, the Lebanon center is expected to be open by the fall.

No local incentives were offered to Amazon, according to G. C. Hixson, executive director of the Joint Economic & Community Development Board of Wilson County.

That agency, as well as local workforce training and placement agencies, will work with Amazon to put residents in the jobs. About 5,500 county residents — or an estimated 8.6 percent of the labor force — are out of work.