Thursday, September 23, 2021

Amazon's New 3.8M SF Mega Warehouse in Wilmington, DE

 By Linda Moss CoStar News

It’s named for an airport. Its mascot is a dragon. Its motto is “Courage to start, heart to finish.” And it’s a logistics behemoth. Welcome to Amazon’s newest next-generation robotic fulfillment center.

The e-commerce juggernaut opened the 3.8 million-square-foot facility this month in Wilmington, Delaware, at the site of a former General Motors assembly plant at 1025 Boxwood Road. Dermody Properties of Reno, Nevada, is the developer and landlord of the project that Amazon is leasing, one of the company’s biggest facilities in operation.

Seattle-based Amazon has at least 16 mega distribution facilities that span at least 2 million square feet under construction or proposed across the United States and Canada, according to Ben Atwood, a senior market analyst at CoStar Group who has been tracking the data. The e-tailer, which is increasingly using robotic technology at its facilities, has been pressed to accommodate the increasing demand from online shopping, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. That's one reason Amazon has been the nation's most active industrial tenant.

The company is usually fairly tight-lipped when it comes to its warehouses and distribution centers, but this week it invited local officials and the media to tour the state-of-the-art Wilmington site. Photographers were barred from taking photos of certain parts of the plant, for proprietary reasons, Amazon said. The brand new building is five stories tall, with a 640,000-square-foot ground floor and gigantic floor plates.

“Just picture 17 football fields five times going up … pretty big, overall, for a facility,” Will Carney, the center’s general manager and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, told reporters on Tuesday.

The facility has hired 500 workers so far and is looking to add another 500 to the site, according to Amazon officials. Carney, whose work at Amazon includes a stint at its 1.7 million-square-foot site in West Deptford, New Jersey, said there have been about four other super-robotics launches that Jeff Bezos’s giant business has debuted recently.

Airport Inspiration

The Wilmington facility is called MTN1. Amazon fulfillment’s centers are named after local airports, and MTN1 got its moniker from Martin State Airport in Maryland, according to Jairaj Vora, the site’s assistant general manager.

Because MTN1 is just getting up and running and isn’t fully staffed yet, there weren’t that many employees to be seen during the media tour. The center is a seemingly endless sea of conveyors and ramps and stacks of yellow bins used to transport, sort and stow products. The noise was loud enough that reporters were given headsets with speakers so they were able to hear Vora over the din during the tour.

The loud noise gives one indication of what some Amazon workers across the country have complained can be tough working conditions with high productivity goals at some of the company's facilities.

The next stop “upstream,” as Amazon officials would say, is for these orders to be sent to Amazon sorting stations and delivery stations, so they can travel the so-called last mile to shoppers. Amazon has a delivery station next to the new Wilmington fulfillment site, according to Carney.

Robots save Amazon employees lots of steps, according Vora, who said in some facilities workers had been walking the equivalent of 20 miles during a shift. And having fewer humans on the floor puts them less at risk physically, Amazon officials said, for example, from being hurt in an accident.

The corporate position on robots is that they aren’t eliminating jobs, they are creating them at Amazon fulfillment centers.

“Transporting thousands of pods per floor with millions of products stowed inside, the robots enable more inventory to pass through a fulfillment center, which means more associates are needed for handling that inventory,” according to Amazon’s website. “Since 2012, Amazon has added tens of thousands of robots to its fulfillment centers, while also adding more than 300,000 full-time jobs globally.”

General manager Carney declined to say how much Amazon has invested in the Wilmington fulfillment center. But that facility and the delivery station next door will be adding to the over 5,000 jobs Amazon already has in Delaware, according to Carney.

The money that Amazon has put into its two Wilmington buildings contributes to the more than $4 billion in investment the company has made to date during the past 10 years in Delaware, contributing $3 billion to the gross domestic product of in state, he said.

Carney described the new Wilmington fulfillment center as "probably one of the most special in the Northeast ... so close to one of our first-generation buildings."

That's because Amazon debuted the first fulfillment center in its network in New Castle, Delaware, in 1997 about 7 miles away from Wilmington.

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