The announcement by Amazon comes as corporate America awaits the details of a new administration’s economic and trade plans. President-elect Donald Trump has directed angry tweets at companies that have moved jobs overseas or planned to open new plants abroad. Perhaps in response, many businesses have begun to trumpet their commitment to creating jobs in the United States. Last week, for example, when Stanley Black & Decker announced it had agreed to buy the Craftsman tools brand from Sears, it was careful to stress that the deal would mean the company was going to do more manufacturing stateside.
Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer took note of the timing of Amazon’s announcement during the transition team’s daily briefing Thursday.
“The announcement was made after the president-elect met with the heads of several tech companies. Jeff Bezos and others were part of that, and the president-elect was pleased to play a role in that decision,” Spicer said.
An Amazon spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
While the stock markets and the business community in general have greeted Trump’s election and the Republicans’ control of Congress with renewed optimism, many worry about how their policies will play in specific industries. For instance, congressional Republicans and the president-elect have expressed an eagerness to tackle corporate tax reform, but a blueprint for changes previously put forward by House Republicans has retailers deeply concerned. It includes what is known as a border adjustability tax, in which companies would no longer be able to deduct the cost of imported goods from their tax bills. Given that many retailers import the vast majority of what they sell, some are worried such a tax could hobble their businesses. Adding to the uncertainty are Trump’s campaign-season decrees that he might slap soaring new tariffs on goods coming in from China or Mexico.
Amazon’s plans to significantly grow its workforce are in sharp contrast to the job reductions elsewhere in the retail industry. Macy’s said last week that it would slash about 10,000 jobs this year as it closes stores and tries to cut costs by thinning the ranks of its middle managers. The Limited just laid off 4,000 people as it closed its fleet of 250 brick-and-mortar stores.
The chains were victims of a broader shakeout brought on by changing shopping habits. The shift could be easily measured by the sales results emanating from the holiday shopping season. Online, where Amazon is a dominant force, sales were up a robust 11 percent during November and December, according to Adobe, whose software is used by many major retailers. But things looked relatively grim for physical stores: RetailNext, an in-store analytics company, found that mall traffic sank 12.3 percent, while sales in stores dropped 9.9 percent.
The tide has turned relatively quickly. Amazon’s U.S. workforce has swelled from 30,000 employees in 2011 to about 180,000 in 2016. The company said many of the new positions would be in Texas, California, Florida and New Jersey, where it is constructing new warehouses in which it will pick and pack online orders. Amazon’s workforce is still significantly smaller than Walmart’s, which comprises more than 1.5 million people nationwide. However, other big-name retailers already employ fewer workers than Amazon, and the retailer’s newest blitz will only widen that gap. Macy’s, for example, has 157,000 employees across the globe.
Still, it’s worth noting that some of Amazon’s new roles will probably support areas outside its retail business. Amazon has recently begun delivering a string of quarterly profits in large part thanks to its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services.
In a news release, Amazon noted the new jobs would be “full-benefit” positions, meaning that the warehouse hires would get access to the same range of health insurance plans and parental leave options as corporate staffers. Amazon has sometimes taken criticism for its warehouse workplace conditions or practices in the past.
Abby D. Phillip contributed to this report.