Amazon Cuts the Ribbon on Missoula Facility, First in Montana

Company says new logistics building means 100-plus jobs, faster deliveries

By Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press

E-commerce giant Amazon touted its first Montana logistics facility in an event Wednesday, holding a ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the Missoula-area operation with Gov. Greg Gianforte and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

The cavernous, 71,000-square-foot building is just northeast of the Wye, where U.S. Highway 93 splits off of Interstate 90 en route to Kalispell. Amazon representatives said the company has hired about 100 employees at the site, not counting delivery drivers who technically work for independent contractors, and is processing between 6,500 and 7,000 packages a day with capacity to expand.

“We have lots and lots of room to continue growing and delivering for our customers,” said Mabel Funderburk, Amazon’s site leader.

Funderburk said the operation is currently sending out nearly three dozen delivery loads a day, largely serving customers within a 50-mile radius. The facility, she said, means the company is able to make faster deliveries to its Missoula-area customers.

Unlike the company’s larger fulfillment centers, which stock items that haven’t yet been purchased by customers, the Missoula facility is geared toward the logistics of transferring regional shipments arriving in large trucks to the local delivery vans that carry orders the final miles to customers’ doorsteps.

Inside the facility Wednesday morning, toward the end of their early morning shift, workers carted colored bundles of boxes out of the building to parked vans. One particular delivery van, an Amazon spokesman Scott Seroka said, was heading off for a route with 190 stops in Missoula’s south hills.

The floor workers who move and sort packages in the Missoula-area facility are paid between $17 and $19.40 an hour, Seroka said.

Gianforte, a Republican seeking re-election to a second term this fall, touted his administration’s economic development efforts during his remarks at the ribbon-cutting event.

“We’re thrilled Amazon has recognized Montana’s business-friendly environment, our unmatched quality of life,” Gianforte said. “This facility will provide Montanans with more access to better jobs.”

Strohmaier, a Democrat, pointed to Missoula-area quality-of-life draws like a clean environment, recreational access and an award-winning library, as well as what he called “less sexy” county-level policies that he said can clear the ground for investments like the Amazon facility.

“That means implementing a growth policy that sets the stage for development. That means implementing zoning,” Strohmaier said.

In an interview after his formal remarks, Gianforte said the state’s role in bringing Amazon to Montana wasn’t so much a proactive recruiting effort as a matter of staying out of the company’s way as it looked to grow its business by building a new facility.

“In other cases, we are much more actively involved,” Gianforte said, pointing to what he said were two years of work the Montana Department of Commerce put into recruiting German manufacturer VACOM, which announced a manufacturing center in Lewistown last year.

Sam Bailey, Amazon’s regional economic development policy manager, said following the event that the company has been in contact with state officials about the possibility of hiring workers who lost their jobs as a result of the Missoula-area timber industry closures announced in recent weeks.

Bailey also said that the company didn’t pursue tax incentives as it planned the Missoula facility. Instead, he said, it based its decision on where it had customer demand and a study assessing the availability of local workers.

“We did not pursue economic development incentives,” Bailey said. “We wanted to be here, and we knew we wanted to be here.”

This story originally appeared in the Montana Free Press, which can be found online at montanafreepress.org.