In a year that has seen COVID-19 decimate the aviation industry, online retailing giant Amazon has overtaken Boeing as Washington State’s largest private employer. This latest milestone for the retail, logistics, and cloud computing company now takes over a title the aircraft manufacturer has held since the Second World War.
The fact that a company like Amazon can now claim to be the state’s largest employer is not just related to its success during the current medical emergency, but the way employers are replacing workers with new technology and robotics.
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Amazon has thrived during COVID-19
With millions of people worldwide living under lockdowns, Amazon’s online retailing thrived along with its cloud-computing services that people used for remote work and online learning. Amazon’s latest quarterly earnings report shows that the Seattle-headquartered company recorded sales and profits that saw its share price increase by 72%.
Boeing meanwhile saw its share price drop by 36% as it battled with the grounding of the 737 MAX and a reduction in orders due to the deadly virus.
In what it calls the largest peacetime worker mobilization in history, Amazon hired more than 400,000 workers worldwide. Of that number, more than 16,500 new jobs were created in Washington state. In total, Amazon now employs 80,000 people in Washington, an increase of 25% compared to 2019’s numbers.
COVID-19 and the 737 MAX hurt Boeing
For Boeing, it was the opposite, with the aircraft manufacturer slashing its workforce by 13,000 people down to roughly 58,800 employees. Hopefully, for Boeing and the people who rely on the company for jobs, the current downturn will only be temporary. With the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine, the aviation industry is looking towards recovery as people start flying again.
When asked about the significance of Amazon overtaking Boeing as Washington states largest employers, Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington, told the Settle Times the following:
“These two companies are shorthand examples of the changing contours of American capitalism.” She went on to say that Boeing and Amazon are “emblems of … the bigger trajectory of labor, of what opportunity is afforded to an American worker.”
Other tech companies have offices in Seattle
Nowhere is this shift more visible than in the Seattle neighborhood of South Lake Union, where Amazon’s headquarters have grown to 40 buildings, making the area a work/playground with some of the most expensive rents.
With Amazon employing some of the most talented high-tech workers in the country, it is no surprise that other tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have opened offices in Seattle. By having a presence in the city, they can poach from Amazon’s massive pool of tech talent.
When Amazon first moved to South Lake Union from the southeast neighborhood of Beacon Hill, the company had fewer than 5,000 staff. By the end of 2020, the company and its campus had grown to nearly 60,000 employees.
A recovery in the aviation sector will see orders for new planes start coming in, but if Amazon and its rapid growth is anything to go by, COVID-19 may have changed the way we shop and seek entertainment forever.
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