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Monroe County OKs local labor waiver for Amazon

CITY News/File photo

Amazon and its developer won’t have to use local labor for some construction jobs as they build a massive new warehouse and distribution center in Gates, under a deal approved Tuesday by Monroe County’s economic development arm.

The County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency previously awarded the project $134.7 million in property, mortgage, and sales tax exemptions on the condition that the developer, Trammell Crow Co., use local labor for all of the construction work - a requirement typical of such tax incentive packages.

But after an hour-long closed-door session, the agency’s board voted 4-3 to partially waive the labor requirement, allowing Trammell to hire non-local labor for up to 30 percent of its construction workforce.

Trammel and Amazon had requested the waiver, citing problems finding enough local contractors to pour the concrete for the project.

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“I appreciate that we’re looking at the big picture here,” said board Chair Ann Burr, who voted in favor of the waiver.

Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News
Construction on an Amazon warehouse and distribution center on Manitou Road in Gates was under way in April 2021.

Burr noted that almost $41 million in contracts were awarded to local firms while roughly $17 million worth of contracted work will go to out of town companies. She added that the 1,400 construction jobs the project is estimated to create, as well as the 1,000 permanent jobs Amazon has promised, will represent “a huge influx of economic benefits and impacts” to the area.

Ana Liss, Monroe County’s director of planning and development, informed the COMIDA board at its April 20 meeting that Amazon and its developer had approached the county about a waiver for the local labor requirement. She noted that the company was especially concerned about finding enough workers to pour concrete for the $412 million, 2.6 million-square-foot facility on Manitou Road off Route 531 in Gates.

At that meeting, some COMIDA board members gave the request a cold reception.

Jay Popli argued that the county was very clear with its expectations up front and that Amazon was trying to “play” them. Troy Milne, who is the business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 46, criticized the companies for failing to share their construction schedules with COMIDA and the building trades unions, both of whom he said could help the companies find local workers.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Popli and Milne, along with board member Rhett King, voted against the waiver. No board members explained their votes.

Prior to the vote, Liss read letters in support of the project and the waiver from Gates Supervisor Cosmo Giunta, LeChase CEO William Goodrich, and Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy.

"Under any circumstance, rejecting such investment would be misguided,” read Duffy’s letter. “At a time when our region and our state are working to recover from the economic devastation caused by COVID-19, we absolutely cannot allow Amazon to walk away, which it has promised to do in the event that this waiver is not granted.”

Giunta’s letter noted that the town and county had worked with Trammell Crow to help it find as many local contractors and workers as possible. In his letter, Goodrich wrote that due to the magnitude and schedule of the project, it’s unlikely the local labor market would be able to meet the developer’s needs.

Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News
Construction on an Amazon warehouse and distribution center on Manitou Road in Gates was under way in April 2021.

Amazon has a history of requesting and receiving waivers on local labor requirements attached to tax incentives. Often, the possibility — or threat — that a project might be cancelled is enough to convince local officials, who want the investment and jobs, to go along.

The waiver that COMIDA granted to Trammell Crow and Amazon on Tuesday is similar to one the companies received last year from Onondaga County, in which the companies wanted an exemption from local labor requirements to build a 3.8-million-square-foot warehouse in the Syracuse suburb of Clay. The developer told Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency officials that it was only able to fill 70 percent of its construction jobs with labor from the Syracuse region.

The Clay project received $70.8 million in tax breaks from the Onondaga County IDA.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at