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An inside look at Amazon's 1.15-million-square-foot warehouse

Monday, March 26, 2018  
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By: Melody Simmons - Baltimore Business Journal - 

Flanked by more than 1.15 million square feet of warehouse space stacked high with shoe boxes, workers at Cecil County's new Amazon.com fulfillment centerwere focused on filling thousands of orders Friday morning.

It was another day at the office for the 1,100-member staff in North East — except for a VIP visit from Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris and state commerce Secretary Mike Gill who ventured to the tiny, rural suburb to witness the county's economic super star in action.

"This is an exciting achievement," Hogan said. "It's transformational. For Maryland, Amazon means opportunity."

Hogan's tour came amid ongoing anticipation for Amazon's announcement of its HQ2, a second North American headquarters that will bring 50,000 new jobs and at least $5 billion in investment. Montgomery County's proposal made the first cut, but the governor said he had not received any new information on its chances for winning what has turned into a national sweepstakes. The state legislature this week approved $5.6 billion in incentives to help lure HQ2.

"Who knows? Maybe our next announcement together may be a HQ2," Hogan said.

The hour-long tour provided a rare glimpse inside an Amazon fulfillment center for the internet retailing giant that prefers to remain off the grid, even as it fulfills, sorts and ships millions of orders each day across the world. The facility is located in the Principio Business Park off of Route 40, and has 12,600 solar panels on its roof that are capable of powering the warehouse up to 85 percent on a sunny day.

The Cecil warehouse joins two other Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) fulfillment centers in Maryland. A fourth warehouse is under construction at the Tradepoint Atlantic development in Sparrows Point.

The Cecil Amazon center is a business magnet for the county. It will produce about $6 million in new property tax revenues over the coming decade, said Chris Moyer, the county's director of economic development and already has attracted other businesses to open there and new housing starts. More than half of the 1,100 new hires at the Amazon center are county residents.

"This is a clear message we are sending to other counties, that Cecil County is the place to be," said County Executive Alan McCarthy, at a brief presentation before the tour when the corporation presented the Cecil County Public Library with $5,000 in high-tech gadgets including a 3D printer.

Inside the fulfillment center, a fleet of fork lifts and "order pickers" moved about pulling shoe boxes and clothing off of bins that stretched about two stories high. The machines made low-grade beeping sounds as they glided across the warehouse floor, warning workers and guests to beware and heed stop signs.

"We have tens of thousands of orders go out every shift," said Piyush Bajpai, the warehouse general manager who led the tour. "As long as it is on the shelf up here, it is available on Amazon's website."

Hogan asked a series of questions about the process at the plant like how were orders handled and how did they ship. Amazon packers, Bajpai told him, were unaware of who was receiving each shipment as they slipped shoe boxes into containers and pasted on a bar code. From there, the packages were moved to another conveyer belt where names and addresses were attached by a computer based on the bar code.  

Shipments were then made via FedEx, UPS and Amazon.com's own fleet of trucks.

"Everything turns around within one hour," Bajpai said.

After the tour, Hogan said he was impressed by the Cecil facility and its workers that adds to Amazon's overall 5,000 workforce so far in the state.

"It's fantastic," he said.


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