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Pokin Around: Something big is coming to Republic; I'm not saying it's an Amazon facility

Springfield News-Leader (Missouri) logo Springfield News-Leader (Missouri) 10/21/2020 Steve Pokin, Springfield News-Leader

Something big is coming to Republic.

It's going to be huge.

I can't tell you how huge, because that's a secret.

When it's finished, the company will likely hire hundreds of workers.

I can't tell you the company because that's a secret, too.

I'm not saying it's an Amazon facility.

You won't catch me saying it's an Amazon facility. I don't want the city of Republic calling me and asking that I take down this story.

But I will say this, using the words of Mike Landis, city spokesman for Republic:

"It's a large scale distribution warehouse facility."

a flock of birds sitting on top of a parking lot: Drone images from the construction of a large warehouse being built in Republic on October 20, 2020. © Bruce E. Stidham Special to the News-Leader Drone images from the construction of a large warehouse being built in Republic on October 20, 2020.

Please note: Landis never used the word "Amazon."

"It is the biggest construction project in the region by far," he says.

In fact, he says, it might be the biggest one in southwest Missouri in a decade or so.

Whoever is behind this mammoth project wants it to be hush-hush until the company decides when to lower the public-relations boom. 

a truck is parked on the side of a dirt field: Construction of a large warehouse at 3200 East Sawyer Road in the Garton Business Park is well underway on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. © Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader Construction of a large warehouse at 3200 East Sawyer Road in the Garton Business Park is well underway on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020.

I can only imagine that the ribbon for the ceremony and the scissors used to cut it will be huge, as well.

Landis tells me there are non-disclosure agreements involved in keeping things secret.

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Tom Rankin, who owns Rankin Development, is one of the co-developers of the Garton Business Park, where the facility that is Not Necessarily Amazon is being built. The other developers, he says, are the city of Republic and Drury University, which owned the land.

"Drury has owned the land for a number of years following the donation of the former Garton Farms property to the university," spokesman Mike Brothers said via email.

"The university has subsequently worked closely with the city of Republic as the land has been purchased and developed by commercial entities. ... It is common for donors to gift property to universities and other nonprofits as a form of donation."

Rankin says he can't tell me much.

"The line I have to give is that we are pursuing a project for a client that wants to remain confidential," he tells me.

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Amazon's secret code names

I started my day Tuesday following up on a story that appeared on the Biz 417 website. 

It stated that Landis confirmed what many have suspected for weeks: the massive construction project underway for about three weeks is an Amazon facility.

But not so fast, Landis tells me.

When I spoke to Landis, he said he had called the Biz 417 reporter back and said he told her he was misquoted — that he never said it was Amazon — and that, in turn, the story was taken down.

I sent an email to the reporter for her version.

"There was a misunderstanding and Landis reached out to let us know," Jenna deJong told me via email. "We updated the story accordingly with a correction."

I've seen several stories state that there are "rumors" that it will be an Amazon facility.

That would mean lots of jobs, which is great.

Nationally, Amazon has 75 fulfillment centers, employing some 125,000 full-time workers. Two are in Missouri: Hazelwood and St. Charles, each with 1,500 jobs. Three are near Kansas City in Kansas.

I decided to call a guy named Nick Halter on Tuesday. He is a senior reporter/broadcaster with the Minneapolis/St. Paul (Minnesota) Business Journal.

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The reason I called Halter is because on Tuesday his story was published online. He wrote: "Amazon is planning to build a 750,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Lakeville that will employ hundreds of people."

Lakeville is about 25 miles south of Minneapolis.

How does that happen? I wondered. Why can't I write:

"Amazon is planning to build a 750,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Republic that will employ hundreds of people"?

Why I can't be the bearer of good news?

I asked Halter if there was much secrecy involved in dealing with Amazon in Minnesota.

"The typical Amazon process is that they do keep it secretive," he says.

In fact, he says, he has discovered the company often uses code names for projects.

There were tentative plans for an Amazon facility in a city called Brooklyn Park, 11 miles north of Minneapolis.

"It was called 'Project Hot Dish,'" he says.

Apparently, according to Halter, the phrase "bring a hot dish" is huge in Minnesota.

I'm giving even odds that the code name for the project in Republic — not that I'm saying that it necessarily is an Amazon project — is "Project Cashew Chicken." 

Often, Halter says, Amazon makes the developer of the project sign a confidentiality agreement so they don't reveal that it's Amazon until Amazon gives the OK.

a group of people on a train track near a field: Construction of a large warehouse at 3200 East Sawyer Road in the Garton Business Park is well underway on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. © Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader Construction of a large warehouse at 3200 East Sawyer Road in the Garton Business Park is well underway on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020.

Amazon typically also makes public officials sign confidentiality agreements so they don't reveal that it's Amazon that's coming to town, he says.

"It is a challenge for reporters, but if you look at the building specs, sometimes you can match them to another one of their buildings."

As I said earlier, city spokesman Landis said the building specs in Republic are secret.

My eagle-eyed colleague Claudette Riley pointed out to me that Amazon.com has listed job openings on Indeed.com for positions in Springfield (not Republic.)

They are for assistant manager, area manager and station operation manager.

If you apply, I wonder, will you have to sign a confidentiality agreement?

These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper 8½ years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 417-836-1253, spokin@gannett.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Pokin Around: Something big is coming to Republic; I'm not saying it's an Amazon facility

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