The center, near AutoZone and FedEx in the Ocala 489 Commerce Park, will encourage more investments in Ocala/Marion County, says head of chamber/economic partnership.
Whirs of rising forklifts and beeps from heavy machinery reversing resonated around Chewy Inc.'s new Ocala fulfillment center Wednesday.
The 600,000-square-foot, $40-million distribution center sits just east of I-75 between the US 27 and County Road 326 interchanges. It is the first such center in Florida and Chewy's sixth nationwide.
Vice President of HR Operations Gregg Walsh said Ocala is the perfect spot for the fulfillment center with the city's large workforce, sense of community, and space for the facility. Chewy is one of three distribution centers in the Ocala 489 Commerce Park.
The other two are FedEx, which opened in 2016, and the newly-opened AutoZone.
According to Keren Jones, director of communications for the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, AutoZone's 400,000-square-foot facility officially began business operations last week but the company will not have a grand opening until sometime during the summer. The auto company is currently hiring.
Chewy, founded in 2011 in Dania Beach, is an online retailer for food, wellness products, toys and supplies for pets. The website boasts more than 25,000 different products for dogs, cats, fish, birds, small pets, reptiles and horses. Customers can set up recuring orders at specific frequencies or make one-time transactions. Orders are delivered straight to their door.
Walsh said delivery saves pet owners a trip and frees up more time for them to enjoy life.
Ocala's facility has more than 100 rows of storage, many of which are sparsely packed with shrink-wrapped pallets of dog food or boxes of bird seed packages. In time, the shelves will be full, Walsh said.
The center currently employs about 300 people. Walsh said as more products and orders come into the warehouse, that number will grow. He estimates the center will employ more than 700 by the end of this year.
Walsh said the company, when hiring, looks for motivated, ambitious people who want a chance to grow.
"It's not just a job, but a career opportunity," Walsh said.
He said Chewy is currently looking to hire in all fields: fulfillment, management, human resources, finance, internet technology and more.
The online pet shop has grown rapidly in the past six years, opening fulfillment centers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas and Nevada. Walsh said the location of fulfillment centers depends on the demand for products.
Plans for new fulfillment centers and their placing is done with the customer in mind, Walsh said. Chewy wants to be able to deliver orders with quick turnarounds of two to three days.
Workers zoom around the warehouse on machines slightly resembling a Segway in the front and tractor in the back, which can carry up to 16 boxes, to collect ordered items. They stop at intersections and beep to alert anyone nearby of their presence.
The machines – all battery-powered – help relieve employees of the stress of walking around the warehouse all day and increase productivity, Walsh said.
The center also climate-controlled in preparation for hot Florida summers.
Chewy began showing interest in Ocala in September 2016 and made it official in December of that year. Both the city and county offered incentive packages to draw Chewy here.
The city's package included cash and reimbursements totaling $1.033 million, paid out over five years. The county's package totaled $740,000.
Both packages require Chewy to create a minimum of 114 jobs with an average annual wage of $39,310, not including benefits.
Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the CEP, said the impact Chewy's fulfillment center will have on the community will be fantastic. Along with providing more jobs, it will be a good sign for future businesses looking to invest in Ocala.
"(Recent investments) all really go to selling the community and to show this place can do business," Sheilley said.
Contact Katie Pohlman at 867-4065, email@example.com or @katie_pohlman.