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Amazon, others keep on trucking jobs to SJ County

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POSTED January 24, 2013 1:18 a.m.

A decade ago, South County leaders from Tracy and Manteca to Stockton were enthralled with the idea of bringing high tech as well as research and development jobs to the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

They dreamed of middle to upper middle class paychecks and production plants that looked like office buildings. Their rationale was simple: the cost of doing business was running high in the Bay Area, land was at a premium, the valley was close, plus part of their high-techworkforce already lived here.

Cities such as Tracy, Manteca, and Stockton created – on paper – plans for high tech parks that would rival Hacienda Park in Pleasanton.

It is clear today that isn’t happening any time soon. But that doesn’t mean the region’s proximity to the lucrative Bay Area market isn’t bringing in jobs. In fact, they’re being trucked in – and out – daily.

Amazon’s decision to build a state-of-the-art fulfillment center covering a million square feet in Tracy that will open in the fall of this year is just the latest in a long list of distribution centers to locate in the trucking triangle formed by Tracy, Manteca-Lathrop, and Stockton.

There are 17 million consumers within a 100-mile drive by truck from where the 120 Bypass and Interstate 5 meet near the San Joaquin River. That is the third largest such market in the United States, topped only by Long Island-New York and Los Angeles. It is essentially at least one round trip including loading and unloading within an eight-hour work day. Add the fact that Copperopolis 34 miles to the east is at the epicenter of a market of 37 million people reachable within 24 hours by truck and it makes the South County a logical choice for logistics.

It doesn’t hurt that the region has two major truck-to-rail operations – the Union Pacific Railroad intermodal operation in Lathrop and the Santa Fe Railroad intermodal operation northeast of Manteca – in addition to Interstate 5 and Highway 99.

Firms like Amazon can reach three major markets: the Bay Area from San Jose to San Francisco, Sacramento, and the Fresno area.

It is what attracted a long list of other firms to build distribution centers here ranging from Ford Motor’s small parts division, Safeway, Home Depot, Millard Refrigeration, Costco, Best Buy, Orchard Supply Hardware, In-N-Out Burger, and JC Penney to name a few.

Amazon will bring nearly 1,000 jobs to Tracy. That’s in addition to 700 jobs Amazon is filling in Patterson this summer.

And while they may not meet the head-of-household targets of the R&D centers that cities once pursued, they are steady jobs that – when combined with someone else working in the household – often are enough to buy a home and support a family.

While many distribution center jobs are in the $9 to $20 range, there are others that pay better when benefits are tossed in. Ford, for example, when they opened in Manteca a decade ago, had an employee cost in excess of $60,000 per worker.

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