The buck stops at Operations Manger Kymbria Brown, site lead for Amazon’s new DHX5 last-mile shipping warehouse, seen here in pajamas for the site’s “Pjammin” cancer awareness event.

Amazon Pulls Back Curtain on McKinley Park Last-Mile Warehouse

Published September 20, 2021

E-commerce giant Amazon has started operations at its new last-mile shipping warehouse at 3523 S. Ashland Ave. in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood.

 
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Although currently in a ramping-up stage, operations will grow until the facility is handling tens of thousands of parcels per 12-hour shift, with a maximum capacity of 95,000 packages every 12 hours, said Kymbria Brown, operations manager at the facility.

 
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Semi trucks usually come in starting around 8 p.m. for overnight deliveries in the truck bays on the east end of the site, Brown said, with parcel sorting starting every night around 1:20 a.m.

Buffer and Stage

Parcels trundle down a conveyor belt during a "crash sort" of off-schedule deliveries at the McKinley Park DHX5 Amazon warehouse.Parcels trundle down a conveyor belt during a "crash sort" of off-schedule deliveries at the McKinley Park DHX5 Amazon warehouse.The first step for parcel sorting is “pick to buffer,” Brown said, when packages come off the trucks for the initial sort into the rows and bays of the massive warehouse.

Then, “pick to stage” collects packages together for delivery on vans, which load up in dozens of spaces under an outdoor enclosure on the south side of the warehouse.

No. 1 Thing

No goods remain in storage at the facility: What comes in quickly gets sent back out, Brown said.

All package routing, movement through the warehouse and van delivery is determined by The Algorithm, she said, although drivers may choose flex routes to help them hit their delivery targets.

 
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“We want to keep our customer promise,” Brown said. “After safety, that’s the No. 1 thing.”

A Surprise Career

Brown, a longtime Chicago resident, said she never planned to run a last-mile Amazon shipping facility. “I was kind of blindsided by this.”

Workers at Amazon's new last-mile warehouse in McKinley Park sort packages for placement on delivery vans.Workers at Amazon's new last-mile warehouse in McKinley Park sort packages for placement on delivery vans.Brown began as an entry-level (or “L1”) warehouse assistant “just to make some money,” she said. She’s been promoted five times and is now an “L6” entirely in charge of the McKinley Park warehouse.

Being dedicated has been key to her success, Brown said, as well as finding something she really liked to do.

Still Needs Employees

“I love logistics,” she said. “I love the fast pace.”

The McKinley Park neighborhood Amazon facility is one of 20 fulfillment and sortation centers that Amazon has built in Illinois so far. The company continues to expand its business, footprint and investment in the state, spending more than $14 billion in Illinois over the past decade, including for infrastructure and employee compensation, a statement from the company said.

 
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The McKinley Park site still needs to hire around 55 workers, Brown said. Interested applicants can connect via Amazon’s jobs website and then specify the McKinley Park location as part of the sign-up process.

 
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Upskilling

There have been no issues with employee churn, Brown said. An internal study cited by Amazon pointed to high pay and predictable schedules as two top factors tied to employee satisfaction.

Rows of racks await parcels at Amazon's new last-mile warehouse in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood.Rows of racks await parcels at Amazon's new last-mile warehouse in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood.Amazon also recently announced an “upskilling” initiative, setting aside $900 million for free education opportunities for its full-time employees to move them into higher-level roles at the company.

"We take our responsibility as an employer seriously, and want our employees to succeed and thrive,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer CEO. "We are proud to offer opportunities for people from a range of backgrounds.”

On-Site Training

In addition to the warehouse and loading areas, the new facility includes employee break and training areas, and a classroom for driver training.

Third-party companies conduct all deliveries, Brown said, and all training and qualification of their drivers takes place in a classroom on-site at the McKinley Park last-mile warehouse.


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