During the pandemic, many Americans are shopping from home. All the stuff you order online started its journey to your front door at a warehouse. According to commercial real estate broker Colliers, nearly 329 million square feet of warehouse space was built in the U.S. last year. In Florida, a county between Orlando and Tampa was in the middle of a warehouse boom before COVID-19. And despite the economic downturn, it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.
The town of Auburndale, Florida, in Polk County will soon be home to a 1-million-square-foot Amazon distribution center.
“They can’t open soon enough,” Auburndale Mayor Tim Pospichal said.
He said he’s excited about Amazon and the growth it will bring. This will be the company’s second warehouse in Polk County, and it’s building an air cargo hub at a local airport. For decades, Polk was the top citrus-producing county in Florida. But the state’s signature crop has taken a hit from disease and imported fruit. County leaders saw an opportunity to cash in on Polk’s central location.
“It’s, one, having the appropriate labor force,” said Kris Courier, vice president at commercial real estate firm CBRE. “But the main thing is access to population. You can access over 10 million people within 100 miles. So there aren’t a lot of places across the country that can claim that.”
Courier said the pandemic is accelerating the shift to shopping at home. It’s a change Pospichal has seen himself.
“I own a small mobile home RV park,” he said. “And I’m averaging three or four [Amazon] Prime trucks come into my park almost a day. Never happened before.”
Ikea, PepsiCo, Walmart and dozens of other companies have opened warehouses in Polk County in the last couple of years.
But as warehouses go up, some Polk County residents are upset that the rural character of their community is changing. Megan Powell has lived in the county all her life. She’s part of a Facebook group for warehouse opponents.
“We’re now just seeing the effects of, like, traffic and stuff with all the big trucks. It’s a lot going on,” she said.
Still, Powell said she does like that Amazon is bringing jobs to Auburndale. That warehouse under construction will have 500 workers handling furniture and other large items when it opens next year.