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At Amazon Hub, Abbott Presses Legislative Agenda

Gov. Greg Abbott used a speech Friday at Amazon's massive new distribution center outside San Antonio to press his legislative agenda.

Gov. Greg Abbott tours Amazon's new distribution center Friday outside San Antonio. The hub in Schertz is one of three in Texas.

*Clarification appended

SCHERTZ — Gov. Greg Abbott used a trip to Amazon's massive new facility here Friday to remind its executives that he's pushing to make Texas even friendlier to businesses like the online-shopping giant, pressing a legislative agenda that's approaching crunch time at the Capitol.

While Texas remains a national leader in job creation, Abbott emphasized there is "so much more that needs to be done," including improving the roads that Amazon's employees rely on — the heavily trafficked Interstate 35 corridor — and easing the company's tax burden so it can add to the thousands of Texans it has already hired. 

"In less than 45 days, I'm going to be signing some legislation that will add $4 billion more a year to build roads in the state of Texas to help those traveling to get to where they need a whole lot faster," Abbott said, referring to a plan that includes redirecting some revenue from the vehicle sales tax toward road construction and maintenance. 

"We will also ensure tax cuts of more than $4 billion so you can take that money and plow it right back into growing your business, hiring more people right here as well as across the state of Texas, continuing to power the state of Texas' economic engine," added Abbott, who has threatened to veto any budget that does not include business tax relief. 

Abbott's priorities are currently working their way through the legislative meat grinder. State lawmakers are working to identify the $4 billion in road funding he mentioned, and both chambers are squabbling over the best way to cut taxes.

Unmentioned Friday were the economic incentives that Abbott's predecessor, Rick Perry, famously used to lure businesses like Amazon to Texas — incentives that Abbott has been more skeptical of and has aimed to scale back in some cases. Asked how important such programs are to Amazon as it mulls moving to states like Texas, Amazon executive Mike Roth suggested the company cares more about finding an available workforce. 

"We are expanding rapidly through the U.S. because of the customer demand that we are seeing," said Roth, the company's vice president of North America operations. "Whenever we go into a certain location, there are many factors that play a role in picking a location, but most importantly, it's the labor force."

Roth gave Abbott, accompanied by state Sen. Donna Campbell and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a lengthy tour of Amazon's new fulfillment center in this San Antonio suburb, an immense facility measuring 1.25 million square feet, or the size of 59 football fields. The distribution hub houses tens of thousands of products that are shipped out to the San Antonio area and beyond.

Amazon, which has invested more than $400 million in Texas since 2012, employs nearly 500 people at the facility and more than 3,000 across Texas. The other two fulfillment centers are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

The Schertz facility is one of 10 fulfillment centers in the country featuring Amazon's latest technology, including a six-ton robotic arm that smoothly shuffles around palettes topped with orders. Roth boasted to Abbott that the "Robo-Stow" could move a glass of water without "spilling a drop." 

At one point, Roth joked with Abbott about the prospect of the building eventually being entirely run by robots. 

Abbott, for his part, expressed incredulity as he quizzed Roth about the center's state-of-the-art technology. 

"So no one is operating them?" Abbott asked Roth as the governor watched small, vacuum-like robots whiz across the floor, guided only by bar codes.

Roth, without hesitation, answered in the affirmative. 

*Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify a statement that Amazon executive Mike Roth made to Gov. Greg Abbott.

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