AMAZON’S gigantic new Swansea Bay distribution centre was opened yesterday and hailed as “a shot in the arm” for the Welsh economy.
The pristine, just-finished site, which gleamed in the April sunshine at Jersey Marine, Neath, yesterday, is expected to create 1,200 full-time jobs over five years, and 1,500 seasonal jobs.
Only 60 staff currently work in the cavernous, 400,000 sq ft “Fulfilment Centre” but Amazon plans to have 1,000 workers in by Christmas.
And Amazon’s European operations vice president, Allan Lyall, promised the company was after “local talent”, basing its recruitment in local job centres as well as on its website.
However, anyone wanting to sign up as an “associate” (warehouse worker) at the centre should be warned they may have to walk as far as 12 miles a day ... in safety boots.
The distribution centre overlooking Swansea Bay and nestled beneath Jersey Marine woodland is the size of 10 football pitches.
It also has:
510 car parking spaces;
42 docks (for delivery lorries);
20,000 tonnes of concrete in its walls;
The street around the building is a mile in length;
And at peak times the staff could be arranging the dispatch of up to 300,000 parcels a day to internet customers in any country in the world.
Opening the centre yesterday, First Minister Rhodri Morgan was told that 15 minutes after internet customers click on an item they want, their order is being dealt with in a fulfilment centre like the one in Swansea Bay.
Long gone are the days when Amazon dealt only in books and music.
It now sells home and garden goods, jewellery, shoes, clothes, power tools, consumer electronics... virtually anything which can be sent by mail.
Amazon’s 44-year-old founder Jeff Bezos (the world’s 110th richest man with £4.2bn in his pocket) is so confident internet sales will continue rising he believes he can take on the supermarkets.
Bezos, a neighbour of the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, in Lake Washington, Seattle, said in an interview in the US: “Why not ... there’s room for everyone.”
His company has an estimated 64 million customers worldwide.
The last 1990s tech-pioneer to remain at the helm of his creation, he is so rich he is currently ploughing hundreds of millions into Blue Origin, a space tourism project.
The Swansea Bay Amazon project involved quick work by Neath Port Talbot Council and the Welsh Assembly Government to beat off a Bristol bid for the centre.
It was planned and completed in 16 months, from the first discussions to yesterday’s opening.
Speaking at the centre yesterday, Neath Port Talbot Council leader Derek Vaughan smiled as he recalled: “It took our planning committee around 30 seconds to say ‘yes’ to the Amazon centre.
“The next item on the agenda was a house porch in the Afan Valley... they debated it for 45 minutes then decided to go up there for a site meeting.”
The warehouse is the company's fourth distribution centre in the UK and its largest. The others are in Glenrothes in Fife, Gourock in Inverclyde, and in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
The Swansea Bay site is the biggest in Europe, along with one at Leipzig in Germany which is virtually the same size.
Mr Morgan said: “The speed of delivery of this project has been exceptional.
“It is an absolutely textbook example of how to do regional economic development.
“Amazon is one of only a handful of truly world brands that have emerged since the internet changed the way we live our lives.
“To have such a big name in e-commerce set up a major European base in Swansea Bay is an outstanding achievement for Wales.”
As well as the giant warehouse, a new access road has been built.
“Partnership has been the key to this success,” Mr Morgan added.
The First Minister quipped that the new centre would confuse geography students.
He said, “When they ask where the Amazon is they could be told ‘It’s in a continent called Osprey- lia, half way between the River Neath and the River Tawe’.”
Staff at the giant Fulfilment Centre get a discount on consumer goods there ... but they have to order them online and have them delivered to their door like everyone else.
Security is tight.
The centre is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and staff have to enter and leave via a chrome, scanner-laden turnstyle and must then walk along a steel bridge before entering the warehouse floor.