Standing in front of his shop, Fernley ice cream maker Steve Cordes watches hundreds of workers come and go at Amazon’s huge Internet fulfillment facility on East Newlands Road.
That workforce — many of them temporary employees hired for a few months to handle the massive volume of seasonal transactions at Amazon — provides a significant boost in revenue at Steve’s Homemade Ice Cream and dozens of other Lyon County businesses during a normally soft time for sales.
Amazon hires tens of thousands of seasonal workers for pick-and-pack jobs at its U.S. fulfillment centers beginning in October. Seattle-based Amazon said in a news release earlier this year that it expects to hire as many as 70,000 full-time seasonal workers to fill orders at its fulfillment centers. Workers at the Fernley Internet fulfillment center are placed through Integrity Staffing offices in Reno and Fernley.
Hundreds of local workers travel to Fernley in recreational vehicles and stay at the Desert Rose or Fernley RV parks. Both parks work under contract with Amazon to place seasonal workers. Desert Rose has more than 100 sites, while Fernley RV Park has just 40.
Will MacDonald, general manager of Fernley RV Park, says the contract with Amazon has transformed the RV park from a seasonal to a full-time business. Workers make their own reservations at the parks and get a spot to house their RVs for a month or two, and the parks bill Amazon for the monthly rent.
“In the off season, once the snowbirds end up going from north to south in mid October, the park empties out,” MacDonald says. “But Amazon fills it up in October, November and December. Typically RV parks are seasonal from spring to fall and winter is slow. But now we are a year-round business. For budgetary reasons and stuff it makes it much more easier.”
Fernley RV Park is in its third year under contract with Amazon, while Desert Rose was part of a pilot program with Amazon to house its seasonal workforce in Lyon County. Fernley RV Park averages between 25 and 30 campers each year. For a town the size of Fernley, MacDonald says, the economic impact of adding 400 to 500 people is much greater than it would be elsewhere.
“The reason these people are here is because they don’t want to drive to Reno and Sparks or back and forth from Fallon,” he says. “The Desert Rose is always full, and we get calls every day from people asking for a spot. For a community our size, it certainly helps — you have that extra percentage of people going out to eat or going to the bowling alley or a casino. They have got to spend their money somewhere, and most don’t go back and forth to Reno or Sparks to do that.”
Gene Kelly, property manager for the Wigwam restaurant, says he’s not seen a bump in sales yet this year, but in past years groups of Amazon workers would stop in for a bite to eat when their shifts ended.
Cordes says a lot of work campers come in to his ice cream parlor on their off hours. The spike in revenue isn’t great, Cordes notes, but any scoop of ice cream sold in the fall and winter months pads his business’s bottom line.
“Every little bit helps, and that goes for anything here in Fernley,” he says.
Devin Cramer, manager of the Pizza Shack in the center of town, says businesses located on the east side of town typically see a bigger bump in sales than those located farther away from the fulfillment center. Cramer does see some regular faces each year that come to Lyon County to work at the Amazon facility, though.
With unemployment at 12.4 percent in August — down from 15.3 percent to start the year — Lyon County continues to have the highest unemployment rate in Nevada, the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reports.