Gov. Larry Hogan took in what he called a “massive” Amazon distribution center in Cecil County Friday, as he and other state, federal and local political and business leaders toured the 1.15-million-square-foot building during a grand opening celebration.
“It’s tens of thousands of units that go out of this building every single shift,” Piyush Bajpai, general manager of the center that employs more than 1,000 people, said.
Footwear and apparel are the primary products shipped from the center, according to Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty.
Bajpai pointed out the floor-to-ceiling racks filled with boxes of sneakers as he guided Hogan and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, their staffs and a number of Cecil County leaders through the building, which is in Principio Commerce Park off Route 40 between Perryville and North East.
“Any pair of shoes that you can imagine, you probably would be able to find it up here,” Bajpai said.
The general manager showed the group the packaging and shipping areas as employees used vehicles called “order pickers” to get products off the racks.
Other associates monitored the stream of orders in sealed envelopes or cardboard boxes, bearing the Amazon smile logo, moving along conveyor belts. More cardboard boxes sat on pallets.
Hogan even got the chance to package and ship a pair of Nikes. He worked under the supervision of Char Willis, an ambassador and progress guide. The North East resident said she has been working at the facility since it opened six months ago.
Hogan joked about learning the process of packing, scanning and preparing the order for shipping.
“Somebody somewhere got their package a few minutes late because I was a little slow,” he said.
The building, which Amazon calls MDT2, is one of the online retailer’s three “fulfillment centers” in Maryland. The Cecil County facility opened in September.
The two other fulfillment centers are in the Baltimore area, and the three combined employ about 5,000 people. A fourth facility is slated to open this fall in the Sparrows Point section of Baltimore, Lighty said.
The Seattle-based Amazon is one of the largest retailers in the world. Its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos — the world’s top billionaire, according to Forbes magazine — also owns The Washington Post newspaper.
Amazon has been considering locations throughout the U.S. for its second corporate headquarters, known as HQ2, and Hogan has announced an incentives package worth more than $5 billion to bring the headquarters to Montgomery County.
Company leaders have looked at sites in the Washington, D.C., region, The Washington Post reported earlier this month. A second headquarters in Maryland could generate $17 billion in economic impact in the state, according to a study prepared by the Sage Policy Group Inc. for the Maryland Department of Commerce and Montgomery County, The Baltimore Sun reported in late February.
Hogan told reporters after the tour Friday that his administration has had “conversations” with Amazon officials about HQ2, and “we’re very encouraged.”
“I couldn’t be more excited, honestly,” he said. “There are a lot of people trying very hard to compete for this, but I’m thrilled that we’re under consideration.”
Hogan noted the projected $17 billion economic impact. He said jobs with salaries such as $50,000 and $100,000 would be “transformative” for Maryland.
The governor also praised the existing fulfillment centers in Maryland. He said more than 1,000 Amazon jobs in Cecil County “exceeded expectations,” as the projected number was about 700 initially.
He said the Amazon fulfillment center could bring even more jobs to Cecil County and the Interstate 95 corridor, and noted less than a third of the space available in the Principio Business Park has been developed.
“Having a great company like Amazon decide that Cecil County and this I-95 corridor are a great place for distribution, it seems like other people are going to take notice,” Hogan said.
The governor said more than half of the jobs at the fulfillment center have gone to Cecil County residents.
The facility can benefit neighboring counties, too. About 25 percent of the jobs went to Harford County residents, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby, who cited data from the Susquehanna Workforce Network.
“That’s one of the reasons we work closely with Cecil County,” Mumby said. “Even when we don’t have a parcel here for a particular development, it brings jobs to the region.”
Bajpai, the general manager, mentioned after the tour that he lives in Bel Air.
Amazon pays about 30 percent more than the typical retail wage, he told the visitors during the tour.
Benefits start on the first day of employment, and Amazon helps its employees further their education and careers through its Career Choice program, he said.
“We are big on internal promotions, and we invest in our workforce,” Bajpai said.
He later said company officials are “blessed here with the talent that has been walking into our building to work for us.”
Hogan said the employees he met “seem to be really happy — it’s a great company with great benefits, and they’ve got a real opportunity.”
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He called the facility “absolutely amazing.”
“When you first come in, just the scope of it, the magnitude of how big [1.15] million square feet is, but then to see the processes work and to see how they could get these products to you so fast, it was really amazing,” the governor said.
Harris, whose district includes Cecil and the rest of the Eastern Shore counties and parts of Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties, said during the grand opening ceremony that the Amazon facility is “bigger than anything else in the First District.”
He also said that Amazon helps smaller businesses as they seek to obtain products.
Bajpai and Hogan unveiled a gift from Amazon to the Cecil County Public Library, $5,000 worth of technology tools such as 3-D printers and teaching kits for skills such as robotics, coding and engineering. The equipment would be available for children ranging in age from preschool to high school, library Director Morgan Miller said.
She said the library system has already been recognized at the national level for its Small Business Information Center, designed to promote entrepreneurship in the region.
Amazon’s gifts will be used “to extend this focus to our youngest community members and create a muti-generational pipeline for entrepreneurship and innovation in Cecil County,” Miller said.