Amazon confirms first phase of giant Del. warehouse

The Philadelphia Inquirer | by Joseph N. DiStefno

Amazon has confirmed some details of a much-expected new warehouse center at the former General Motors plant site just west of Wilmington.

On Tuesday, Amazon pledged “more than 1,000 full-time jobs” and a first-floor, robotics-heavy 820,000-square-foot operations center at the site, where developer Dermody Properties has filed plans to build as much as 3.8 million square feet, making it potentially larger than any current Amazon center.

Dermody built another center for Amazon near Bridgeport, Gloucester County, in 2018. Amazon also erected its first East Coast warehouse in New Castle, Del., in 1997 and added a larger facility in Middletown, Del., near the Maryland border, in 2012.

Delaware imposes a gross-receipts tax on retailers such as Amazon, but that tax is suspended for sales from newly built facilities such as the new warehouse.

Amazon’s existing Delaware facilities employ 2,500, plus more during the Christmas shipping season. The company also has concentrations of large warehouses in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

In February, Delaware officials agreed to pay Amazon $4.5 million, an unusually large up-front grant, despite objections from labor-union representative and state Sen. John Kowalko (D., Newark), if it moved to the site. The company’s profits totaled $1 billion a month last year, record show.

“Delaware officials and regulatory agencies have been very responsive to our needs,” which made it possible to attract Amazon, said Dermody partner Jeffrey A. Zygler in a statement. Dermody plans to spend at least $200 million at the site while Amazon plans to spend $50 million on automation equipment.

Gov. John Carney said in a statement that Amazon was welcome to the site, which has been vacant since the car plant closed in 2009. A federal- and state-subsidized plan to build Fisker electric cars there, backed by then-Vice President Joe Biden, who lives in nearby Greenville, fizzled when that company went bankrupt. The plant was demolished by local developer Harvey, Hanna & Associates last year.

At the hearing for the grant, Amazon officials testified that they planned to pay workers $15 an hour, and a smaller group of managers $32 an hour. The base wage at the GM plant when it closed a decade ago was $26 an hour.

According to an Amazon statement, workers at the Wilmington center “will work alongside innovative Amazon robotics technology to pick, pack and ship smaller customer items such as books, electronics, small household goods and toys.”

Ryan Smith, director of Amazon robotics fulfillment centers in North America, said in a statement that workers get “full medical, vision and dental insurance as well as a 401(k) with 50 percent company match” and tuition aid, on top of their $15-an-hour wages.

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