State officials on Thursday approved more than $10 million in tax incentives and a $250,000 grant to lure an Amazon.com customer service center to Winchester that's expected to employ 550.
"It's going to be a fantastic opportunity for our community and the region and the state," said Todd Denham, executive director of the Winchester & Clark County Industrial Development Authority.
The project is not certain yet, officials said, and an Amazon.com spokeswoman declined to comment.
Officials began working with Amazon.com, which has a sprawling distribution center in Lexington, on the project in October, Denham said.
"We've just been trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together," he said.
The latest in that effort came Thursday when the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority gave preliminary approval for $10.25 million in tax incentives for the project. In general, when a company accepts a tax incentive, it can keep that amount of money, which it would otherwise pay in taxes, assuming it fulfills the terms of the deal.
The project is estimated to cost the affiliated Amazon.com company planning it more than $20.7 million, meaning the state's tax incentives would allow the recouping of nearly half of the initial investment required. The city of Winchester was also approved for an Economic Development Bond grant of $250,000 to assist in the project.
The center would take customer calls and e-mails, as well as provide technical support to various business lines, according to state documents. The company expects to hire 250 workers when it opens and build up to 550 employees by the second year of operation, according to the state. The average hourly wage rate for the positions is $15.64, Denham said. With the cost of benefits included, the average hourly wage is $20.33, he added.
"Obviously, this is much-needed help here for our community," Denham said. "We've been hit pretty hard over the last 21/2 years with the downturn in the economy. Should this project come to fruition, it will certainly come a long way in helping replace those jobs."
The project also comes at a time when call center employees in Winchester are slated to lose their jobs. Denham said HP has informed the city it will be ending its lease of a call center that was previously run by Electronic Data Systems, which HP bought in 2008. The call center has up to 150 employees, he said. An HP representative could not be reached for comment.
Denham said Amazon.com is looking at a different facility for its call center, since HP won't be out of the location until the end of the year.
"In order to meet Amazon's time frame they were under, we needed to proceed," he said.