Amazon expanding Detroit presence

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Online retail giant Amazon is doubling its office space in Detroit to form a technology hub focused on hiring full-time, high-tech local employees.

“I just want to say to Amazon: Welcome to Detroit,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “You’re going to love it here.”

“We are hiring right now,” Amazon Marketplace vice president Peter Faricy said in his announcement Monday at Cobo Center. “If you know someone who’s a software engineer, we’d like to talk to them.”

Faricy and other Amazon officials declined to specify how many new jobs will be created by the expansion, but it will include the addition of a second floor with roughly double current office space.

The company has been in Detroit a couple years and occupies about 90 percent of one floor at 150 W. Jefferson Ave., where it employs around 100 people, officials said prior to Monday’s press conference. Teams at the office are responsible for software development, engineering and advertising sales.

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“If we can get another 100 engineers, it’ll really become a self-sustaining technology hub,” Faricy said after the press conference.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan each spoke at the hour-long press conference, hailing Amazon’s decision to further invest in the city.

“There’s now a recognition that Detroit is not just a place for Detroiters or Michiganders, it’s a place for people around the world,” Snyder said. “It's not just about keeping young people in the state, but it's about attracting people that otherwise wouldn't come to Amazon or Detroit.”

Duggan welcomed the Amazon expansion as a sign of “a remarkable day.”

“I just want to say to Amazon: Welcome to Detroit,” Duggan said. “You’re going to love it here.”

The planned expansion aims to transform the existing office “into a growing technology hub” by 2016, paired with the company’s existing hub in Seattle, Washington. Officials Monday said the goal is not only to hire local Metro Detroit workers, but also to recruit talent from outside the state.

Another key goal of the expansion is to provide a local workplace for college interns and recent graduates hired by Amazon, officials said. Previously, such talent often was sent to the company’s Seattle headquarters.

“Today's announcement is further evidence that our relationship with the city and its top companies just keeps getting stronger and stronger,” University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel said.

Playing field rivals briefly teamed up Monday as Michigan State University’s president Lou Anna Simon also praised Amazon’s expansion.

“This is just the beginning of what will be an extraordinary time" for Amazon, Detroit and Michigan, Simon said.

Faricy after the press conference said the expansion is a direct result of technology talent produced in Michigan.

“The No. 1 reason is because of the talent in this city and this state,” he said. “It’s time for us to have a big technology hub in the city.”

Faricy said employees hired locally by Amazon will contribute to the support of business owners worldwide.

Current employees “love the mission of being able to help millions of small and medium businesses to succeed,” he said.

One Amazon seller spoke at Monday’s press conference, detailing her family’s experience with the site. Sara Gildner, of Doll Hospital and Toy Soldier, said the site has “substantial” fees but uses its “marketing muscle” to connect customers with her products.

“It’s an almost guaranteed sale,” she said.

Quicken Loans chairman and founder Dan Gilbert at the press conference welcomed future competition for employees between his company and Amazon.

“We’re glad to having bidding wars,” Gilbert said, to laughter from those gathered. “That’s a good thing.”

Amazon’s Peter Faricy presented an giant, $10,000 check to students from Carver STEM Academy and their principal, Sabrina Evans. The company also donated 30 Amazon Fire tablets to the Detroit Public school.

Amazon is the next in a line of companies “jumping on the technology bandwagon” and investing in the city, after Twitter, a Corktown data center and the Detroit Red Wings “city in a city” on Woodward Avenue, Gilbert said.

“What we're seeing in Detroit is not just businesses moving in here,” Gilbert said. “We're seeing creative businesses and innovative businesses.”

To wrap up Monday’s press conference, Amazon presented an giant, $10,000 check to students from Carver STEM Academy and their principal, Sabrina Evans. The company also donated 30 Amazon Fire tablets to the Detroit Public school.

Faricy after the press conference said he already has his eye on further expansions in Detroit.

“There’s no question about that,” he said. “We’d love to expand far beyond what we have now.”

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