Just how short are the memories of Kansans? Or maybe a better question is how short do Kansas officials think our memories are?
I’m no super memory genius, but I have Google, and the ability to recall things that happened less than five years ago. (And I’m beginning to think these may be very marketable skills.)
So, Gov. Sam Brownback and others announced some good news for Kansas last week: Amazon is going to build an 800,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Edgerton. It’s going to bring 1,000 jobs to the region.
That all sounds terrific! Except, um… didn’t Amazon just close a 915,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Coffeyville, Kansas? The answer is: Yes, Amazon did close a giant Coffeyville facility in February 2015 laying off as many as 1,000 people.
So, in 1999, Kansas officials got to announce to great fanfare the opening of an enormous distribution center north of Coffeyville. At the time, officials said the facility would employ as many as 1,000. (I can’t find anywhere anything that confirms the place employed that number when it closed last year.)
This mega-facility received ample incentives from state and local governments. Amazon received an incentive package worth $4.5 million, or $350,000 for up to 10 years as well as another $1 million in incentives for improving access roads and other infrastructure upgrades. The state also gave the facility a $500,000 loan that was forgiven if the company hit employment goals. Which by the way, I can’t find whether the company hit those goals and the debt was forgiven, or if Amazon repaid that half million dollar loan. The incentives expired in 2009.
Recognizing that Amazon was threatening to close its Coffeyville warehouse, state and local officials again opened up the wallets of their constituents, offering an incentive package of up to another $10 million to entice the Internet company to remain in Coffeyville. Amazon said no.
In the aftermath of Amazon’s departure, the building was sold to a California investor. Now, I don’t know what happened to the 915,000 square-foot building that Kansas residents helped subsidize north of Coffeyville. I’m guessing it’s a vacuous, vacant building slowly decaying. But I hope I’m wrong.
Fast forward to last week, when Amazon announced it was bringing 1,000 jobs to Kansas. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it seems like Kansas got to pay out unemployment to Amazon’s former employees in Coffeyville, and now we’re all about to pay again for the pleasure of having the Internet retailer in our state.
The Edgerton property will receive property tax abatements of up to 75 percent for 10 years. Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Commerce confirmed that the state is offering Amazon PEAK incentives. These are incentives for employing Kansans, and the incentive typically allows an organization to retain 95 percent of payroll tax for employees that earn above the median wage where the operations and jobs will be located.
They will not release the details of the deal until after it’s inked. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that all told, the taxpayer investment in this Amazon project is more than $10 million, because that’s what the company turned down a year ago.
I am trying my best not to get all angered up – people have recently told me I’m too mean -- but it’s really, really difficult not to settle into a fiery rage over this. I do not understand how or why it’s acceptable to take money out of the taxpayers’ wallets, stick the cash in the left hand pocket of the state, take more money from the taxpayers, and then combine the cash with the left hand pocket and move it into the state’s right side pocket and pretend we’ve all won some sort of prize. As sure as I sit here, there will be ticker tape parades and plenty of groveling press conferences showing every step of this process. You know those pictures with public officials in hard hats with shovels? Ask yourself if those photos are worth $10 million.
Amazon is America’s largest retailer by value. Its worth, as of this writing, is $247.6 billion. It’s worth more than Walmart. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, is worth more than $46.7 billion. The average Kansas household, meanwhile, makes about $51,255. The net worth of the average Kansan is about $409,778. This isn’t about envy or class warfare. It is about not forcing everyday Kansans to subsidize big businesses. By the way, Coffeyville has a poverty rate of 19 percent.
So Jeff Bezos and his Amazon behemoth want Kansans, which are worth a little bit less than the average American, to subsidize their enormous building. Wait, that should be buildings—plural. It’s especially unfair for the people of Coffeyville to be asked (at gunpoint, via the tax collectors) to subsidize moving the building and the jobs.
If this doesn’t make you, dear Kansas friends, angry, then I don’t even understand you anymore.