Officials on Wednesday cut a ceremonial ribbon to inaugurate a 300-employee, 311,000-square-foot FedEx Ground shipping facility that is the latest sign of the transition from farming to shipping in the Fife Valley.
“It’s 300 jobs, good-paying jobs,” said Tom Pierson, president and CEO at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
“Thank you for locating in Fife,” he said.
“We consider ourselves the economic hub of Pierce County,” said Lora Butterfield, president and CEO of the Fife Milton Edgewood Chamber of Commerce.
“This facility is key,” she said.
“The big thank-you: 300 jobs,” said Fife Mayor Winston Marsh.
Balloons purple and green rustled in a breeze generated in part by 20 fans attached to the 32-foot ceiling and turning like propellers on a cargo ship.
Curtis Edenfield, a facility manager, explains that with a series of vents, the entire volume of air inside can be fully replaced with fresh air within 6 minutes, hopefully eliminating the chance that employees might be overcome by heat.
It’s about the comfort of employees, he said.
So there’s also a kitchen where staff can purchase food, not with money, but with a thumbprint. There’s a pool table in the lounge, a ping-pong table and a FedEx-branded video game.
There’s a washing machine and dryer for the electronic wrist straps employees wear to assist in the processing of packages.
Ryan Fredin, FedEx senior manager, said this is the first automated facility in Washington. But for an operation in Troutdale, it’s the largest in Washington and Oregon. It is one of some 60 such facilities in the country.
Other Western Washington operations remain in DuPont and Auburn, and some employees from other operations were hired as part of the 300 openings in Fife.
The company is still hiring, one official said.
Fredin said the facility operates 24 hours per day and can process 18,000 parcels per hour. The busiest shift comes between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Traversing a mezzanine catwalk halfway up from the floor, Fredin explained that packages entering the system through two “photo tunnels” are photographed by six cameras that catch each of a parcel’s sides. Thus identified, packages are sorted toward a destination.
Looking like a water feature at an upscale amusement park, there’s a “corkscrew chute” where “non-conveyables” are given individual attention after being sorted down to the floor.
The failure rate for missidentification runs less than one-half of 1 percent.
The facility cost $165 million to build and furnish.
In the operations room, nine video monitors display choices from among the cameras looking down from the ceiling where the fans turn beside long snakes of fiber-optic cable.
Not counting the mezzanine, the building could contain four football fields. A typical package takes 3.2 minutes to go from intake unloading to an outgoing truck or van.
Edenfield uses terms including “extendo,” “infeed singulation” and “gappers,” all necessary within the world of shipping.
There’s “pattern recognition software” that takes 6 microseconds to assign a destination to a package. There’s the “next load point” that somehow connects with “sortation,” after which a package is sent to a line of trucking portals or else a place where smaller vans will depart for local delivery.
Planning for the facility began two years ago, Edenfield said, and was chosen in great part because of growth in the area, the presence of e-commerce and the promise of an improved transportation network when the state Route 167 project is completed.
Although the ribbon was severed Wednesday, operations in Fife commenced June 24, Edenfield said.
“We used to farm this land,” said Fife City Councilman Tim Curtis, walking among the aisles and the seemingly miles of conveyors.
“Lettuce, cabbage. People hated to see the farming go away, but you can’t blame the farmer,” he said.
“In terms of jobs, this is a great facility. We have to look at the community as a whole.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535