File // AP
Amazon.com refers to its distribution warehouses, like this one in Arizona, as “fulfillment centers.” The online giant plans to open one in Lexington County that would employ 1,249 workers, but hiring is on hold as the Legislature debates tax incentives for the company.
COLUMBIA -- Amazon has put hiring on hold for the distribution center it plans to open near Cayce as legislative allies race to deliver the tax exemption that the online retailer wants.
The job freeze is for 11 management positions, listed on the company's website. It is unclear if the freeze also applies to other jobs that Amazon planned to recruit at job fairs in the Midlands this spring.
The move occurred as Lexington County lawmakers this week introduced proposals to give Amazon a five-year exemption on collecting taxes on sales to South Carolina residents so the online retailer would proceed with its plans to bring 1,249 jobs to the Midlands.
"We look forward to working with legislators to enable us to restart our hiring process," Paul Misener, company vice president for public policy, said in a statement.
Winning approval for the S.C. tax exemption will be a challenge, some legislative leaders said Wednesday.
"There's no question it's an uphill battle," said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington.
Resistance is being stirred by other retailers, who said the tax exemption would give a competitor an unfair advantage.
"A sale is a sale, and online retailers should play on a level field," Guy Jones of the River Runner Outdoor Center in Columbia said in a statement provided by the S.C. Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a coalition of small retailers and national chains with stores in the state that opposes the Amazon deal.
Gov. Nikki Haley is unhappy with the pledge, offered by then-Gov. Mark Sanford, saying she doe not agree with it. However, Haley has promised not to veto the incentive if it passes the Legislature.
Even some legislative co-sponsors of the exemption proposal have misgivings.
"I'm not crazy about it all," said Rep. Marion Frye, R-Lexington. "You hear other merchants say it's an unfair break, and I don't disagree with them. You get people out of work who want jobs, and I don't disagree with them."
Some area business leaders said the tax cut is an acceptable trade-off to nail down a project that eventually could provide even more jobs than promised -- about 3,000.
Giving Amazon the exemption is a "critical component" to land its initial payroll, estimated at $61 million a year, and give a "much needed boost" in sales at other businesses and in school tax collections, said Heather Jones, vice president of the S.C. Economic Developers' Alliance in a letter to the General Assembly.
The campaign for the proposal also is picking up support from other key Midlands legislators.
Some lawmakers said they see as a commitment the promise by state Commerce Department officials to make a "good-faith effort" to win legislative approval of the exemption.
"That language is legalese for 'you can count on it being done,' " said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland. "I don't want our state to get a reputation for not keeping its word."
Amazon probably will get an exemption but may have to settle for less than five years, said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun.