Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) has hired more than 2,000 employees for its downtown Nashville office hub, and some of them began working from the company’s first new high-rise within the last month.
Both milestones, which a top executive disclosed in an interview with the Business Journal, signal that not even a pandemic appears to have slowed Amazon in creating its $230 million Operations Center of Excellence at the Nashville Yards development.
Amazon’s hiring pace averages to at least 63 hires every month since the company announced the expansion in late 2018, an offshoot of its “HQ2” search. It also means the company has hired roughly 1,000 people or more since its August 2020 announcement that it had added its 1,000th employee.
Amazon now ranks among downtown’s largest private employers and could be the largest of that group, rivaled only by Bridgestone Americas and HCA Healthcare Inc. (NYSE: HCA). Their return to the office is an important barometer for downtown’s recovery from Covid-19 shutdowns and other restrictions put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Amazon is among a wave of arrivals pushing wages higher in the region, particularly for workers with tech skills. Amazon is hiring for a range of roles, from software development and engineering to finance, legal and human resources. The office hub is the backbone of Amazon’s retail operations division, spearheading the company’s intricate shipping, logistics and distribution work.
So far, more than 30% of hires are in tech roles, said Holly Sullivan, who is Amazon’s vice president of worldwide economic development. That’s a bit higher than Amazon’s initial forecast, while “realizing that a lot of our ‘non-tech’ roles dabble in tech,” Sullivan said. (As an example, Sullivan said her nephew moved from Los Angeles to work at the Nashville hub, in capacity planning. She said it’s considered a “non-tech” role, though he spends most of his day creating algorithms).
Amazon’s first office tower, along Church Street, contains 566,000 square feet of office space. It’s among the largest office buildings downtown.
“Quite frankly, that building will fill up really quickly with amount of hiring we’re doing,” Sullivan said. A second, similar tower next door should be ready in a couple of years. For both, Amazon has signed 20-year leases with Nashville Yards developer Southwest Value Partners, including multiple long-term potential extensions.
For now, Amazon will keep the temporary office space it’s leased at 401 Commerce St. and other locations. Amazon has negotiated first dibs on additional potential office space at Nashville Yards (in lease language, “certain rights of first offer and first refusal” for office space).
Amazon’s first tower will feature two murals from local artists as well as art installations from three students at downtown’s Hume-Fogg High School.
Amazon’s hiring progress comes as the company continues to build a deeper pool of area talent to lean on for future hiring. Amazon is finalizing details of its pledge to endow a computer science professorship at Tennessee State University, Sullivan said, among a number of examples of the company investing in primary and secondary schools around the state, as well as tech organizations.
“It’s a combination of what you can do immediately with talent already there, and investing in that longer-term talent pipeline so you can have that mix of diverse talent ten to 15 years down the road,” she said.
The most recent hiring progress also came amid a spurt of controversial state laws targeting the LGBT community. Sullivan said May, in particular, “was a really hard month for recruiting.”
“Tennessee as a whole has done a great job of being a consistently business-friendly state. But I believe we can be more — not only top of the list for business, but top of the list for inclusivity, welcoming to all residents,” Sullivan said. “When you present yourselves as welcoming and business-friendly, the sky is the limit.”
Sullivan, who led the HQ2 search process, grew up in Nashville, graduated from Harpeth Hall School and returned after college to spend 13 years spearheading job-creation efforts in Wilson and Rutherford counties.
She made Amazon’s formal announcement in fall 2018 at the state Capitol, revealing plans for 5,000 jobs within seven years at average annual wages well beyond $100,000. It remains the largest jobs announcement in state history (though Oracle Corp.’s pending formal announcement will top that mark).
She’s yet to get to see the new tower in-person, and hopes to do so in the fall. “I’ve seen lots of pictures,” she said. “It is lovely.”