Youngkin tours Amazon’s new robotics fulfillment center in Suffolk
Alongside robots, 1,500 employees process 200k packages per day
Amazon.com Inc.’s 3.8-million-square-foot robotics fulfillment center in Suffolk opened in September, but the global retail colossus held an official grand opening at the facility Thursday, allowing Amazon officials to show off the center to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who attended the opening event and took a tour.
The $230 million, four-and-a-half-story building in Northgate Commerce Park is the second-largest building in Virginia — behind the Pentagon — and has 1,500 employees. It processes about 200,000 packages per day, with plans to ramp up to 1 million per day.
Under construction for the past two years, it’s one of dozens of Amazon facilities around the commonwealth, including several in Hampton Roads, but it’s Amazon’s first robotics fulfillment center in Virginia. Located at 2020 Northgate Commerce Parkway, the facility is nine football fields long and has more than 13 miles of conveyance, Gregory Lum, the facility’s general manager told the crowd assembled for the center’s grand opening.
In addition to Youngkin, government officials in attendance included U.S. Rep Bobby Scott, state Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard “Shep” Miller III and state Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, among others.
“When I think of Amazon, I think of innovation. I think of boldness. I think of a company that is driven every day to be best in class. And those themes resonate with our governor, who wants Virginia to be best in class,” Merrick said during the event.
Youngkin highlighted the workforce Amazon is creating across the commonwealth, and the 30,000 jobs the company already has created here, as well as investments the retailer has made in logistics facilities and HQ2, Amazon’s $2.5 billion East Coast headquarters being built in Arlington, which is expected to create another 20,000 to 25,000 jobs over the next decade.
“Today we have the chance to peek inside, peek inside at the amazing capabilities that drive Amazon’s ability to provide extraordinary customer service, state-of-the-art access and opportunity to customers, and oh, by the way, the coolest robots you have ever, ever seen,” Youngkin said. “What we will see today is the next generation of what robotics alongside an extraordinary workforce can do together … but it also represents the commitment that Amazon has made to maintain a culture that rests on innovation.”
The building represents Amazon’s newest robotics technology in the country, an Amazon spokesperson told Virginia Business. The Suffolk center packages items that are 18 inches or smaller and serves the entire mid-Atlantic region, one of the reasons for the facility’s immense size.
“We have introduced the robotics technology to help make our operations safer and more efficient and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty, adding that the robotic technology allows Amazon to ship packages to its customers faster and more efficiently, allowing human employees to focus on more sophisticated roles. Lum, the facility’s general manager, noted that the robots do “the heavy lifting” so humans don’t have to.
While touring the facility, Youngkin stopped to chat with employees working alongside robots to process and prepare customer orders for delivery. Thousands of items peeked out from yellow bins, waiting to be placed in Amazon-branded packaging.
Youngkin stopped and spoke with Tamya Crawford, an area manager overseeing a team for one part of the fulfillment process. “It’s not easy work, but it’s rewarding,” said Crawford, who worked for Amazon for about a decade at facilities in Pennsylvania and Central Virginia before joining the Suffolk center this year.