Under Armour has opened a new distribution center in Sparrows Point. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
Sportswear giant Under Armour officially cut the ribbon Wednesday on a second warehouse in the region that is capable of shipping everything from boxes of team uniforms and pallets of goods sold on Amazon to a single shirt for an online customer.
The Sparrows Point operation, dubbed Omni Distribution House, can accommodate a workforce of more than 1,000 in a building the size of 23 football fields. And it fits with the latest efforts by the Baltimore-based athletic apparel giant to retool and grow after a rough stretch.
“It takes a mile to walk around the building,” said company founder and CEO Kevin Plank to a crowd of hundreds of workers and guests. “But size doesn’t make something great. It’s the fight in the dog.”
The event at the building, which began ramping up operations in February after more than two years of planning, featured an array of local and state dignitaries that included Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and former Raven linebacker-turned-businessman Ray Lewis.
Under Armour plans to open a massive distribution warehouse on the site of the former Sparrows Point steel mill that will employ 1,000 people and serve as the company's national hub to fulfill consumers' online orders.
The building sits among other fulfillment centers run by Amazon and FedEx on an expanse that was once home to the massive Bethlehem Steel mill. It was rebuilt by Tradepoint Atlantic with millions of dollars in state and local aid aimed at restoring the acreage to use and providing the area with jobs.
Under Armour did not disclose how much it spent on the warehouse, though it did receive $2.2 million in conditional loans from the state and county to support the project. The state also funded $2 million in property and infrastructure improvements related to the project.
The warehouse is the company’s fourth in the United States and second in the region, with the other in Curtis Bay. Plank said the Sparrows Point facility is state-of-the-art and will help the company grow. It’s also flexible and will help Under Armour serve a variety of customers.
The company has found more of those so far this year after struggling in recent years. Under Armour missed out on a contract to outfit Major League Baseball players. It struggled to respond when criticized for its treatment of women in the workplace. And perhaps most troubling, consumers seemed to move on. The company laid off 400 people, about 3 percent of the workforce. The stock price slid.
But Under Armour launched a multiyear restructuring plan, which included closing underperforming stores and trimming its inventory and offerings. It moved to bring products to market faster.
Inside the warehouse Wednesday, 14 miles of conveyor belts were sweeping bags and boxes of running shoes, workout apparel and fashion accessories, among other products. Workers picked, packed and readied the packages for shipping with the aid of a vast array of high-tech machinery.
Some workers wore scanners on their wrists, ensuring that the right shirts and shoes made it into the right boxes and onto the right conveyor belt.
“We timed it when we first opened, and we can pick, get a package through the system and ready to ship in an hour to an hour and a half,” said Rob Bowen, who runs the warehouse operation as senior director of the Omni Distribution House. “We handle 100,000 units a day.”