Timing was ‘critical’

Amazon center in Frederick will employ more than 1,000

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Print this page by James Heffernan
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Amazon’s new e-commerce center in Frederick County.
Photo by Norm Shafer

Helping a company create a 1-million-square-foot e-commerce facility in nine months is no small feat. But that’s exactly what Frederick County officials did last year in landing Amazon, the online retail giant.

“Both the developer and Amazon were very focused and upfront as far as when they needed the facility,” says Patrick Barker, executive director of the Frederick County Economic Development Authority.  “Clearly, timing was the critical aspect of the deal — finding a property and getting it up and running.”

Amazon is involved in a major expansion of its warehouse and distribution network in the U.S. The company was looking for a site that could enhance service to the Washington-Baltimore market.

Dallas-based Amazon developer Hillwood first inquired about available sites in Frederick in spring 2016. Only a handful of available properties in the county EDA’s inventory were large enough to handle the facility Amazon wanted to build. “Large-scale industrial sites are at a premium, not only in Frederick County but across the state,” Barker says.

By the fall, however, one tract had emerged as a viable option. In 2004, land owned by real estate developer George M. Sempeles in the White Hall area near the West Virginia line was chosen for the FBI’s proposed Central Records Complex. After that project dried up because of a lack of federal funding, Sempeles sold the 101-acre property last year to Hillwood for just under $7 million. A portion of the property extends into neighboring Berkeley County, W.Va.

The deal for Amazon’s e-commerce center in Frederick was announced in spring 2017. All of the pieces of the project came together quickly, Barker says. The permitting process for what would become known as the White Hall Commerce Center involved site plan approval and two separate building permits.

The first building opened in late September; the second was completed about two months later. “The county and the developer did a great job of working with Amazon to make this deal happen,” Barker says.

Since taking occupancy of the facility, the company has been busy building its information technology infrastructure. “Amazon is very mechanized with their logistics operations,” Barker says. “They wanted time to allow them to install all of that technology. They’ve been putting in racking operations and their preferred IT.”

When the $105 million facility is completed this year, it will employ more than 1,000 people. According to Amazon, employees at the Frederick center will pick, pack and ship large customer items such as big-screen televisions, kayaks and patio furniture.

Amazon is known for offering good employee benefits, Barker adds, and “for many in our community, this will be the first time that they have seen those sorts of benefits.”

Barker says the Amazon deal is shaping up to be one of the more significant corporate investments during his tenure with the Frederick County EDA.

“When you consider the size, the time frame and the potential that lies in providing our area with good-paying jobs, it’s probably in the upper tier,” he says. “The Amazon name is something that catches people’s eye, and hopefully that will lead to other investments in Frederick County in the coming months and years. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

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