Any lingering question about whether retail giant Amazon Inc. will be the tenant of a massive warehouse and distribution center proposed in Woodward can be put to rest.

In an application for a state grant to help pay for roadway improvements, the company that will occupy the more than 1 million-square-foot facility is described as one that “strives to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company, Earth’s best employer, and Earth’s safest place to work.”

Do an internet search of that word phrasing and you’ll be taken to Amazon’s “Who we are” page. In addition, in his final shareholder letter as Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos wrote that Amazon is “going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”

Other phrases in the grant application also match how Amazon describes itself on its web pages, including that it is guided by four principles: “Customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking.”

The Woodward City Council in mid-October approved a site plan for a 1,080,300-square-foot building with 98 loading docks and parking stalls for 392 trailers and 727 vehicles. The proposed development has the code name Project Hawk, a tactic Amazon has used with other projects, both in Iowa and nationally.

People who were told about the Woodward project, including elected officials, signed nondisclosure agreements saying they would not reveal the company behind the proposed development. Amazon officials, who previously have declined to comment about the proposed development in Woodward, did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

“Firms hide who they are early in the process to make sure land prices aren’t bid up and to, in Amazon’s broader case, to not spark early opposition to their plans,” wrote Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson in an email to the Business Record.

In addition, Amazon typically keeps announcements about new facilities secret until all tax incentives are negotiated and approved and contracts are signed, Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International Inc., wrote in an email. However, the Woodward facility is “undoubtedly” a large non-sortable fulfillment center that Amazon will use to stock items that are heavy or bulky, such as appliances, televisions, garden furniture and barbecue grills, he wrote.

A delivery station that specializes in heavy and bulky items will likely operate in the Woodward facility, providing deliveries to the Greater Des Moines area, wrote Wulfraat, whose Quebec, Canada, supply chain, logistics and distribution consulting firm has done extensive research on Amazon and its distribution network.

The warehouse and distribution center is proposed for the Woodward Eco-Business Park south of Iowa Highway 141 and east of Iowa Highway 210. The facility would be light gray in color with a blue stripe around the top of the building. The facility looks similar to an Amazon fulfillment center that opened last December in Bondurant.

“For every major metro market, Amazon has at least one fulfillment center for small sortable merchandise (e.g. books, DVDs, toys) and one fulfillment center for large heavy/bulky merchandise because the facility and material handling requirements are very different for the different types of merchandise,” Wulfraat wrote in the email.

A development agreement with the company behind Project Hawk has not been approved by the Woodward City Council. In addition, the land acquisitions have not been completed.

Project Hawk would add about $100 million in new tax base to the city of Woodward, the Woodward-Granger school district and Dallas County, according to Woodward’s application for an Iowa Department of Transportation RISE (Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy) grant. The project would generate $3.4 million in “annual tax flow” to the three taxing jurisdictions, according to the application.

The council on Oct. 11 approved a resolution to apply for the grant that would pay for up to 80% of the cost to add turn lanes at the interchange of Iowa Highways 141 and 210. The turn-lane project is estimated to cost nearly $460,000. Woodward is asking the state for a $367,528 grant. Construction of the proposed road improvements would begin in March and be completed by early August, according to the application.

The Iowa Transportation Commission is expected to discuss the grant application at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Construction of the facility is expected to begin in early 2022 and be completed by fall 2022, according to the application.

The distribution and warehouse center would create 1,000 jobs. All positions would pay at least $15 an hour, according to the application. (Amazon guarantees a starting pay for all workers of $15 an hour.)

Swenson, the ISU economist, predicted Amazon will not have trouble finding workers for the jobs. The Des Moines area has the state’s highest growth rate, he wrote. People move to the metro area with expectations of finding employment with good pay and benefits.

“The northwestern suburbs are growing smartly, too, so labor supplies and flowers will be consistent,” he wrote.

Swenson also predicted that Amazon’s pay and benefits package will entice workers who are employed in other area warehouse jobs as well people who stock shelves at big box and grocery stores.

In September, Amazon announced it was increasing its average starting wage to $18 an hour for 125,000 new hires in transportation and fulfillment. Benefits for full-time workers include health, vision and dental insurance, a 401(k) plan with a 50% company match, and up to 20 weeks paid parental leave. Also in September, Amazon announced it would pay full college tuition for its hourly U.S. workers.  

Coming Friday: In Friday’s Business Record, read how the Iowa Certified Site Program is helping attract new businesses to the state and keep existing ones.