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Originally published March 5, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Page modified March 5, 2011 at 10:35 PM

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Amazon.com on a hiring spree

Amazon.com has been expanding its office complex in South Lake Union and has about 1,900 openings in Seattle.

Seattle Times business reporter

It's tough times all around, just not at Amazon's new headquarters in the South Lake Union area of Seattle.

Young workers dressed in jeans and T-shirts type away on laptops in small conference rooms named after products sold on Amazon's website. Vending machines serve up pricey gluten-free cookies and dry-roasted edamame. And for their pooches, doggy biscuits are handed out at the main reception desk.

Amid a sluggish job market and shaky economic recovery, the world's biggest Internet retailer is hiring like crazy at its headquarters complex. Consider Amazon's online jobs board: It lists about 1,900 openings in Seattle, at least twice as many as a year ago. More than 900 call for techies.

"We're looking for very talented software developers," said Susan Harker, director of global talent acquisition at Amazon.

Other openings call for recruiters, product managers, salespeople, graphic designers and supply-chain analysts.

While some openings came about because of employee departures, most are new additions to help Amazon get bigger, Harker said. "We hired a lot last year, and we're going to hire a lot this year," she said.

Amazon's expansion in and around South Lake Union is a surefire sign that the Internet giant has hit a major growth spurt.

Amazon began moving into its headquarters complex last spring and now occupies seven buildings covering 845,000 square feet.

But it's not yet done.

Amazon, which went public in 1997 and made its first annual profit in 2003, has long-term leases with Paul Allen's Vulcan Real Estate for a total of 1.7 million square feet, including four buildings still to come.

What's more, Amazon occupies a big chunk of Vulcan's 2201 Westlake nearby and soon will take most of Schnitzer West's 1918 Eighth Avenue in the Denny Triangle neighborhood.

In a widely anticipated move, Amazon said last week it signed a long-term lease for about 460,000 square feet of office space at the new Schnitzer building.

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Despite a global economic downturn, Amazon nearly doubled its annual profit in the past three years to $1.15 billion. Last year it had sales of more than $34 billion, up from $19 billion in 2008. Its stock is up a third from a year ago to $172 a share.

What gives? Analysts cite a range of factors, from the company's late-2009 purchase of shoe and apparel website Zappos.com, to the rise of its Kindle e-reader, to Amazon Web Services, which rents out computing power to other organizations.

Worldwide, Amazon had 33,700 employees at the end of 2010, about 9,400 more than at the end of the previous year.

It won't say exactly how many people it employs in Seattle, only that there are thousands. Some still work elsewhere in Seattle, including the Pac-Med building on Beacon Hill, but all are expected to move to Amazon's new offices by late December.

The arrival of thousands of Amazonians to South Lake Union has been great for some neighbor businesses like Blue Moon Burgers.

"We were dead in the water for a year and a half before Amazon started moving in last April. And by June or July, we thought we were maxed out on what we could do," said general manager Nils Petersen. "But I figured out new ways to get people in and out the door faster, and my staff has pretty much doubled."

Petersen, who believes the company has nearly 6,000 employees in South Lake Union, is preparing for even more Amazonians. "I'm looking at increasing my staff because I've heard Amazon has about 4,000 employees set to move in between April and June," he said.

Petersen's estimates are in line with the number of employees that Amazon's new offices could easily accommodate. As a rule of thumb, real-estate brokers figure there's one employee for every 200 square feet of office space.

Amazon's growth spurt also is good for local techies.

Technology blogger Matt Rosoff, of BusinessInsider.com, notes that tech job listings in Seattle are up 47 percent since last March. That puts Seattle's tech job market ahead of Austin, Texas, which is up 44 percent, and Silicon Valley, up 41 percent, said Rosoff, citing statistics from job-hunting site Dice.

Besides Amazon, Microsoft is adding to its payrolls again after eliminating about 5,000 jobs during the recession. Google is hiring at its Fremont and Kirkland offices. Facebook has set up a Seattle outpost. And Salesforce.com is actively looking to staff a new Seattle office near Amazon's headquarters.

"Amazon is in a pitched battle with these companies for tech talent," said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of online real-estate brokerage Redfin, a 200-person firm based in Seattle. Still, Amazon remains "very disciplined" when it comes to pay and benefits, he said.

"They offer lucrative packages with equity at a company that's growing," he said. "But I don't think Amazon has been drawn into the break-all-the-rules, stop-at-nothing knife fight that I'd say Google and Facebook are engaged in for top tech talent."

While Amazon would not give details about its pay packages, many new Amazon hires receive two years of bonuses and stock that vests over four years, said Jeff Hibbert, managing partner at Seattle executive-search firm Laurel Group. Historically, he said, Amazon is known to pay a "slightly lower base salary" than such companies as Google and Microsoft.

"But it more than makes up for that with bonuses and restricted stock units," he added.

Then, there's Amazon's internal motto: "Work hard. Have Fun. Make History."

"They've changed the way people buy and read books," Hibbert said. "Many technologists are attracted to Amazon because it's a disruptive company."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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