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Seaford Amazon opens, sparks hope for revival

Katie Tabeling
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An Amazon associate takes packages from rack aisles, in preparation for contractors to load them on delivery vans, headed out on the Delmarva area. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

SEAFORD — Decades ago, Seaford Mayor David Genshaw remembered there was a time that residents would learn to avoid Stein Highway at 4 p.m. due to a major shift change at the DuPont nylon plant.

But today, another big name in Delaware has started up a shop in a former DuPont warehouse on Dulaney Street and hired 100 employees to date: Amazon.

The e-commerce juggernaut opened its first Amazon facility in Sussex County on Jan. 19. This time, the 100,000-square-foot facility serves as a delivery station where packages are shipped by truck, unloaded and sorted to contract driver fleets. 

This last-mile delivery center targets roughly a 45-mile radius, covering customers from Milford to Salisbury, Md., as well as Long Neck to Denton, Md. The Seaford facility is the only one on Delmarva, although centers around Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va., may also serve the southern end of the peninsula.

Empty racks early in the morning sit on the Amazon Seaford facility floor. As a last-mile delivery center, contractors come to pick up packages, which were delivered hours earlier, to deliver same-day shipping. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

“In a sense, it’s almost like DuPont because with a name like Amazon, there’s immediate recognition there,” Genshaw told the Delaware Business Times. “There’s jobs that offer benefits and other attractive incentives, and when a business comes to town, they spend money and that splinters off into the economy.”

One year ago, Amazon announced it reached a deal with Gillis Gilkerson to move into the warehouse and run a last-mile delivery center, where packages arrive and are sorted to vans for delivery. The Seaford warehouse, known as WDE1, can process up to 8,000 packages a day. 

Much of the floorspace was vacant, but the hope is that Amazon will quickly grow in demand — the size of the building could handle around 20,000 packages a day. The facility has seven truck bays to also use if growth dictates the demand.

“We’re hoping by this summer we can really start digging in and expand our operations. We’d love to hit the Delaware beaches, but we’ll see what happens,” Amazon Area Manager Chris McKinney said.

Amazon’s Seaford facility partners with the MTN9 warehouse in White Marsh, Md., which ships about three truckloads sometime between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Each shipment is unloaded onto blue carts, and taken to conveyor belts. Associates grab the packages and scan the labels — placed by the fulfillment center and which contains customer information — and place a yellow sticker on it. The yellow sticker signals which aisle of steel racks it should be placed on.

“You will see [an associate] put between 1,000 to 1,200 stickers on a package every single hour, which speaks to the speed these guys can reach,” Amazon manager Brian Messick said.

Early in the morning, associates then will pick the items out of the bins on the aisles and place them in a new cart for the Amazon contractors to collect and ship out. The Amazon delivery service program (DSP) is typically who is delivering the package to a customer’s doorstep, with up to 140 packages per day.

Amazon contractors move packages, held in a group in those containers, to be packed in delivery vans. The Amazon Seaford facility is the only one of its kind on the Delmarva region, and will allow many of those customers to receive same-day shipping. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Nate Dartnell and Qaisar Mehmood are two men who own DSPs, with Dartnell managing 25 vans and roughly 50 employees and Mehmood launching his fourth business with Amazon. Mehmood has DSP operations in Newark, Wilmington and New Castle, although the Seaford fleet marks his first in Sussex County.

“I would say there’s no challenge in the workforce here, because you’re seeing a lot of people really want to jump in,” Mehmood said, talking about the difference between the workforce in Delaware’s northern end compared to the south. “Since we’re close to the state line, we’re also seeing people come from Salisbury and other parts of Maryland.”

Dartnell, who used to work in cyberwarfare for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later NASA, decided needed a change of pace and joined Amazon’s DSP. He said he liked to overcome challenges that each city presents, and southern Delaware comes with its own issues.

“It’s definitely the roads, especially the backroads where drivers like to go very fast. We have a lot of homeowners begging our drivers to use their driveway because they don’t like them to stop on it,” Dartnell said. “Construction and weather conditions can also cause challenges, though I think we were only down for two days in the last snowstorm.”

Amazon WDE1 marks the fifth facility in the First State, and the third in the past year alone. Delaware was home to the e-commerce businesses’ first East Coast fulfillment center and now one of its first nex-gen facilities opened at the former Boxwood site in Wilmington last fall.

In total, Amazon employs more than 7,300 people in Delaware and has 7.3 million square feet either occupied or under contract. That space is larger than Wilmington’s central business district.

At the Seaford warehouse, associates earn at least $15 an hour and in most cases, have access to comprehensive benefits that start on day one. Those benefits may include health, vision, dental plans along with a 401(k) with a 50% company match with paid leave.

Amazon reached a deal with Gillis Gilkerson last year to establish a last-mile facility at a warehouse at 1700 Dulaney St. | PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

In addition, Amazon has recently partnered with University of Delaware, Wilmington University and Delaware Technical Community College to offer full college tuition. McKinney added that he had just settled arrangements with DelTech and Salisbury University’s career center to recruit talent, and will be planning to attend a career fair at Seaford High School in April.

Genshaw, who graduated from Seaford High, and once spent a summer unloading trucks at the Penco warehouse nearby, noted Amazon likely wouldn’t hire as many employees as the DuPont plant and that it will become ingrained in the city’s fabric. 

DuPont built a $8 million factory that brought 850 workers to manufacture nylons in the 1930s. At its height in the 1970s, it employed about 4,500 people, thus creating the town’s informal slogan: “The Nylon Capital of the World.” 

DuPont began pulling back its operations and shut down that plant in 2004. Invista, a synthetic fibers company, spun off from DuPont until it was sold to Koch Industries. To this day, Invista maintains a presence in Seaford, though nowhere near as large as its precursor.

“Think of it like sales: when you land this huge account, it’s great. But when you lose that account, it’s devastating,” Genshaw said. “If I could map out how we grow business, I personally would love 20 Amazons or other companies that hire 100, 200 employees. Not one that employs 4,000.”

However, the mayor also hopes that with a household name in Seaford’s community, it may make a big statement to other businesses out there. The city is also quietly working on yet another project that may entice distribution or warehouse needs at the Western Sussex Business Campus. Infrastructure is now in the ground, and city officials are reportedly working on the next stage in the plan.

“Amazon sees the value we have, so why not us?” he said. “With a name like Amazon, Seaford is starting to get more notice, and we hope we can fan those flames.”

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