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FedEx Ground package distribution center adds 'C' wing to building

March 31, 2013|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU | arnoldp@herald-mail.com
  • Dirt is moved at the site of the new expansion being built on the grounds of the FedEx Ground package distribution center near Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

From a hill, it’s like a child’s sandbox dream to see the giant earth movers, smaller bulldozers and dump trucks moving earth and rock on the field next to the FedEx Ground package distribution center near Hagerstown.

But to the several dozen heavy equipment operators, millwrights, electricians, iron workers, plumbers, and data and security installation workers who have started building FedEx’s big expansion, the activity is a dream come true, best summed up in a few words.

“It’s definitely job security,” said Don Fleagle, 58, who is operating one of the two mammoth pans — huge rubber-tired machines that Chambersburg, Pa.-based contractor David H. Martin Excavating Inc. is using to scrape, fill and flatten fields as part of the FedEx project.

The multimillion-dollar project “means a lot to us,” said Joe Clark, on-site foreman for Ellsworth Electric, a contractor based in Hagerstown.

Early this month, FedEx Ground began the project to expand its current 380,000-square-foot center off Newgate Boulevard in the Hopewell area near Valley Mall to a total of 590,000 square feet.

Already, Washington County government has issued building permits for $15.1 million of the work.

Overall, including the expense of the miles of conveyor systems that are to be installed, the project will cost about $60 million, said Roy Gilfedder, who FedEx has contracted to be the site inspector for the entire project.

“Right now, there’s about 85 people” in the various trades who are involved in the construction, Gilfedder said. “And that’ll crank up to probably about 110 people” by June, when the project hits its peak, he said.

The employment will stay at peak level for most of the 18-month project, which is to be finished by the end of October 2014, Gilfedder said.

Given how badly the nation’s 2007-09 recession ravaged the construction industry and how tepid the recovery has been, the giant FedEx project is a big help.


Construction jobs on rise

Indeed, the largest group of people unemployed in Western Maryland as of January are those who have experience working in construction, according to data from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR).

The data shows that 24 percent — about one person in four — of those collecting unemployment benefits throughout Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties has worked in construction.

Such data for Washington County alone wasn’t immediately available.

The county’s unemployment rate among people of all skills increased from 8.9 percent in December to 9.4 percent in January, the latest month for which DLLR has released such information.

DLLR said 65,155 people — an increase of 2,248 — were working in the county in January compared to December. But, DLLR said, the number of unemployed people also jumped, rising to 6,738 people — 585 more than in December.

Throughout Maryland, new jobs in construction are slowly on the rise. Of course, that is natural in springtime as the weather warms, but data from DLLR suggests a gain caused by the economy this past January compared to January a year ago.

The data shows that in the category of “natural resources, mining and construction” jobs, employment statewide was 2.3 percent higher this past January than it was in January 2012. There were 149,300 such jobs last month compared to 146,000 in January 2012, DLLR said.


An additional 100 employees

Inside the local FedEx Ground center itself, employment has been rising.

Last December, when company officials announced the current expansion, a spokeswoman said the Hagerstown hub had nearly 900 workers.

This past Thursday, Hub Manager Rich DePietress said the center now has 1,000 workers and “obviously, we’re increasing” that more when the new expansion is finished in 2014.

“We’re growing as a company. So (how many new employees will be hired is) just a matter of how many packages come in” to the shipping center, DePietress said.

Nationwide, FedEx Ground has continued growing, even during the recession, according to Gilfedder, who said he has been an inspector for FedEx at several of its expansions around the country the past 10 years.

“FedEx has been busy all through the recession. They’ve kept expanding. In fact, this type of industry has stayed busy,” Gilfedder said.

Businesses seeking to cut costs have stopped warehousing large numbers of parts and other supplies — moving instead to what is called “in-time delivery” by shippers such as FedEx, he said.

“When they need five (parts), they call up their supplier,” Gilfedder said. “So FedEx has been kept busy.”

The Hagerstown hub can process 42,000 packages per hour, DePietress said. By the time the expansion is finished in late October 2014, the hub will be equipped to handle many more packages, “probably in the 50,000-an-hour range, roughly,” he said.

By October 2014, the hub will be equipped to use just half of the new wing that makes up most of the current expansion, DePietress and Gilfedder said. Equipping the other half “will probably happen within the next five years, which will make this one of FedEx’s largest sorting facilities,” Gilfedder said.

When that happens, the center will be capable of much more, DePietress said.

“At full phase, when everything’s being utilized,” the hub will be able to process as many as 60,000 packages every hour, DePietress said.


Adding a third wing

The “lion’s share” of the 210,000-square-foot expansion is “C” wing, Gilfedder said.

At present, the hub — which was built in 2005 and expanded in 2008 — has two wings, which FedEx refers to as “A” and “B”. The grand plan is for the entire facility to be shaped like a three-pronged fork or a capital E, where “A” and “B” are the upper prongs and “C” will be the lowest prong, Gilfedder said.

The “C” wing will be 1,041 feet long and about 85 feet wide, he said.

“Right now, we’re doing the excavation, preparing the ground for the building to be erected on that,” he said.

Roughly a thousand yards away on the Newgate Boulevard side of the FedEx facility, the David H. Martin — or D.H. Martin, as it also is known — company’s giant pans and bulldozers prowl several acres of former farm fields.

Areas are being dug out for two stormwater management ponds and the earth excavated is being used to fill and flatten other sections on which will be built a large parking lot for employee vehicles and for the big tractors that pull the FedEx trailers. D.H. Martin’s crews also will be filling in FedEx’s existing stormwater pond on the opposite side of Newgate so a parking lot can be built there for the trailers.

In all, D.H. Martin has about 20 employees working on the project, Fleagle said.

The work will keep them busy for more than a year, according to Rick Shadle, D.H. Martin’s project superintendent at the site.

“We’re going to be here, in and out, probably until June 2014,” Shadle said.

By this coming June, when the foundation for the new “C” wing has been completed, workers will begin erecting steel beams for the building’s structure, Gilfedder said.

Most of the nine Ellsworth workers now on the job site have started working in the current facility “running pipes to feed (electric wires to) the new building,” Clark said.

Literally “miles of” the 4-inch diameter, galvanized pipes are being hung 30 feet off the ground near the building’s roof and eventually will go all through the new building, too, Clark said.

The Ellsworth crew has started feeding electric wires through the pipes to supply power ranging from 120 to 480 volts to subfeed panels, receptacles, lights and lots of motors, Clark said.

It will be “a good year” from now until his workers begin hooking up all of the new conveyors, Clark said.

At its peak, Ellsworth will have 20 to 25 employees working on the project, Clark said. That full press will begin this September or October and continue “on through the following October,” he said.

With the new wing, FedEx will increase the number of openings where its big trucks back in and unload, and are loaded again.

“Now, there are 240 outbound truck bays and there are 48 inbound doors,” Gilfedder said. “And we will add 16 inbound doors and 158 outbound doors.”

Inside the existing facility and then, inside the new wing, crews are going to be adding to the material-handling capability through the installation of sorting machines as well as “miles and miles of conveyors,” Gilfedder said.

When the Hagerstown center opened in 2005, it “had about three miles of conveyors. And they expanded that by another two miles in 2008,” he said. “And now, they’re going to (a total of) about 7 1/2 miles of conveyor belts” with the current expansion.


Spreading their wings

In general, the companies hired to do all of this work look to one company — Poerio Inc. — to oversee the entire project as construction manager. Based near Pittsburgh, Poerio has done several large commercial, industrial, retail and other kinds of projects, according to its website.

D.H. Martin, Ellsworth and all of the other contractors chosen for the FedEx project were selected based on bids, Gilfedder said. He said FedEx sends bid packages only to companies that have worked for it in the past and then, all of those companies compete by submitting bids for the current project.

As a result, “the architect is out of Nashville, Tennessee. Structural engineer is out of Arizona” and others come from places across the country, including the Tri-State area itself, Gilfedder said.

“They come from far and wide,” he said.

Because of the ongoing tightness in the economy, there is a lot of competition for projects as large as the local FedEx expansion, according to some of the contractors who won the work.

As Anthony Aiello put it, “I came 700 miles to get a job” on the FedEx project.

Aiello is the job supervisor at the FedEx site for US&V Concrete, a concrete construction company headquartered near Chicago. His company is doing the concrete — the foundation, floors and other concrete features of the FedEx work.

The recession and its aftermath have clobbered the construction industry in Illinois, Aiello said.

“To sum it up, there’s no private-sector money being spent” to build new business headquarters or expansions in that state, Aiello said. “So it’s only public — taxpayer money — for schools and other government operations,” and the competition for that work is tough, he said.

As a result, “a lot of contractors have been spreading their wings,” widening their usual territories looking for work, Aiello said. “There’s a lot of out-of-town” contractors on the FedEx project, he said.

Shadle, the project superintendent at FedEx for D.H. Martin, said his company has managed to land other projects, but the economy has made the competition for work a lot harder.

“There’s so much competition. The bidding is so competitive now,” Shadle said.

Though US&V is from Illinois, Aiello said, the company has benefited Washington County’s economy, too.

“We’re dealing with local vendors and we’re hiring local talent. We’re running about 17 guys (on the FedEx project) and more than half of them are local guys that we just hired within the last two months,” he said.

Just among those he has hired, Aiello said, he can see ongoing effects of the recession.

“I’ve got guys who have been working 30 years for one construction company and who then got laid off,” Aiello said. “So what does that tell you?”

And the economy doesn’t seem to be getting any better, he said.

“I have seen the writing on the wall,” he said. “Everybody and his brother running after that work — the public-dollar work.”

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