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How Roundup, Montana, became an Amazon hub

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Rockies Today

November 15 · Issue #36 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

How Roundup, Montana, became an Amazon hub
The Verge published a fascinating story Thursday by Josh Dzieza about consumption and commerce in the age of Amazon, and how tiny margins and boxes can pile up in the unlikeliest of places—such as Roundup, Montana.
Why thousands of Amazon packages converge on a tiny Montana town Why thousands of Amazon packages converge on a tiny Montana town
On any given day, thousands of packages from Walmarts, Targets, and stores around the country travel north along a two-lane road out of Billings, Montana — past the Tumbleweed Saloon, past cows grazing on empty rangeland, past the Busy Bee Cafe and stands of short pines — to the town of Roundup, where they will be unboxed, re-boxed, and sent off to Amazon.
At first glance, Roundup does not appear to be a hub for much of anything. Founded by homesteaders and ranchers in the late 19th century, it enjoyed boomlets as a coal town and a station along the Milwaukee railroad, but the coal tapped out and the train shut down, and the town’s population has now sunk below 2,000. Its Main Street is lined with homages to its frontier past: silhouettes of cowboys painted on boarded-up windows; dust-covered wagon wheels in otherwise empty storefronts; a noose dangling from “the hanging tree,” which a plaque explains was used to execute three cattle rustlers and two unlucky bystanders, cattle rustling being “considered one of the lowest forms of crime.” With a lone traffic signal flashing red, it just makes the cut for being a one-stoplight town. Roundup is, in short, just about the last place you might expect to become a nexus of international e-commerce.
But the geography of Amazon is strange: more than 150 million square feet of warehouses, distribution centers, and sortation depots located mostly in exurban sprawls and industrial zones, out of sight of the millions of customers who receive its goods on their doorstep. Even by Amazon’s standards, Roundup is an oddity. There’s no fulfillment center, Amazon’s term for the enormous warehouses where it stores and dispatches goods. In fact, there’s no official Amazon presence of any kind. Instead, Roundup is home to a growing industry of prep centers, businesses that specialize in packing goods to meet the demanding requirements of Amazon’s highly automated warehouses.
Each item prepped and shipped nets the women a dollar. If the items are small and the preppers work fast, they can make good money. Sandi, who tracks her prepping in a spreadsheet on her desk, calculates that she made $49.55 per hour bagging 353 miniature animal toys the day before. Their income drops if they have to prep, say, strollers or televisions, but the work is flexible and still pays better than most of the jobs available in the area.
“The jobs we get here are so close to almost minimum wage,” Linda says. “And it really doesn’t cost a lot to start a prep. I mean, you started with one printer.”
That’s one form of rural entrepreneurship. Here’s a Brookings blogpost published today on the goings on in Rawlins, Wyoming:
How a rural Wyoming town is repurposing historic assets to spur local entrepreneurship
After the fire's out
Reports show wildland firefighters may struggle in secret once the season ends Reports show wildland firefighters may struggle in secret once the season ends
There’s no denying that there is a problem when it comes to suicide: Wildland firefighters are dying by suicide at startling rates each year, far more often than people in the general population. This is a fact that has been known within the fire community for years, often whispered and mourned, but not spoken about directly until recently, [Shawna] Legarza says.
Part of the reason for the silence—and lack of information—around death by suicide comes from an issue with reporting. Jeff Dill, the founder of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FFBHA), says that many firefighters experience mental health struggles after they’ve gone fully off-duty for the season, which means their deaths often go unreported within agencies like the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS). 
Dill has been collecting data about firefighter suicides through the FFBHA since 2014. Though this data is reliant upon self-reports from families, he anticipates he’ll hear about more than 100 firefighter suicides in 2019 alone. Last year, 87 firefighters died by suicide, a number that outpaced lives lost while fighting wildfires in 2017, according to an FFBHA suicide report
To better understand the issue, firefighting organizations and academic researchers are finding new ways to collect data. 
Yellowstone bison hunt is a go
And more wildlife news:
Judge keeps bison-hunting season open Judge keeps bison-hunting season open
Grizzly council talks bear distribution, connectivity in Bozeman
Hibernation works for bears. Could it work for us, too?
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep advocates sue over plans to build Vail worker housing on animals’ habitat
Colorado petition seeks to legalize hunting with spear-thrower
Coal, Keystone XL, cap and trade
A roundup of energy and climate news from around the West:
Bucking Navajo leaders, company powers ahead with Powder River Basin coal mines Bucking Navajo leaders, company powers ahead with Powder River Basin coal mines
Montana lawmakers seek more time for Keystone XL public, tribal input
Cap and trade is supposed to solve climate change, but oil and gas company emissions are up
Methane emissions from coal mines could stoke climate crisis
Pitkin County commissioners give green light to solar facility
Salt River Project to install Arizona's largest battery system, helping to replace giant coal plant
U.S. natural gas production, consumption, and exports set new records in 2018
In Colorado, 'putting the fun in Superfund'
'Mighty' gondola plan for Idaho Springs would anchor redevelopment of historic Argo Mill & Tunnel 'Mighty' gondola plan for Idaho Springs would anchor redevelopment of historic Argo Mill & Tunnel
What else we're reading today
NPS scraps industry-stacked advisory panel
Lawmaker demands answers from administration over BLM's headquarters relocation
Broadband internet access coming to Navajo Nation communities in San Juan County
Census Bureau works toward a more accurate count in Indian Country
Air quality is better everywhere but the West. Blame wildfires
‘Sleeping giant’: New Mexico poised to be outdoor go-to spot
With its merger approved, the new Gannett readies the cost-cutting knife
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812