Take a rare look inside the Amazon fulfillment center in Kannapolis

An associate at the Amazon fulfillment center in Kannapolis, Seneman Pollock, organizes magnets on a board that tells employees in the outbound section what station to work at.
An associate at the Amazon fulfillment center in Kannapolis, Seneman Pollock, organizes magnets on a board that tells employees in the outbound section what station to work at.

When opening a package from Amazon, you might not think about the intricate process involved in getting that package into your hands. But the company provided a rare behind-the-scenes tour Thursday of its 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center in Kannapolis that helped shed light on that process.

The center, which is about as big as 28 football fields, sends off more than 100 massive semi-trucks filled with customer orders every day across North Carolina and sometimes to other states, according to Amazon.

It employs around 1,000 full-time workers who organize, pack and distribute everything from furniture to toys for the online retail giant. When the Kannapolis City Council approved incentives for the project in 2017, it expected at least 600 jobs to be created by the center.

After Amazon raised its minimum wage last year, every full-time, part-time and seasonal employee is paid at least $15 an hour.

Shannon Todd, the Kannapolis center’s general manager, said Amazon’s fulfillment centers have an interesting system of organizing products.

Instead of having all products of one type in the same aisle, Todd said items are not organized by type, which he said is actually more efficient.

“We’re not just necessarily picking out one customer’s order, we’re picking out many customers’ orders,” Todd said. “So one customer might order diapers and kayaks but another customer might order kitty litter or dog food or something else.”

Across the massive factory, there is constant activity as special fork-lift called “order pickers” bring products from a seemingly endless maze of shelves to the outbound section, where the products are boxed and later loaded onto trucks.

In fact, there are so many “order pickers” driving around the factory that stop signs line the intersection of every aisle, and employees are required to look both ways before crossing. A cacophony of horns is always heard because operators honk twice at every aisle intersection.

Unlike other fulfillment centers that are heavily automated with robots, Todd said the Kannapolis center relies more on humans because it specializes in distributing larger items.

Todd said he encourages associates to give feedback on how the center runs to increase efficiency.

“We really try to listen to what the people who are doing the work say as they develop suggestions,” Todd said.

An inflatable dragon arch at the entrance of Amazon’s fulfillment center in Kannapolis represents the facility’s mascot. A spokesperson for Amazon said its previous mascot was the knights, until employees realized dragons were cooler.

A sign at the entrance encourages employees to “Work hard have fun make history.” An inflatable dragon — the employee-chosen mascot — covers the entrance to the facility to remind people it’s not all about work.

The fulfillment center opened last July after Amazon reached an incentive agreement with the Kannapolis City Council that would total $562,275 over three years.

Other centers

In addition to the Kannapolis location, Amazon is developing fulfillment centers in Garner, Kernersville and Charlotte.

In 2018, the Charlotte City Council unanimously approved $13.4 million in incentives for the center that spans around 100 acres near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The council sold the land to CF Hippolyta Charlotte LLC, a holding company named after a mythological Amazonian queen that is linked to Amazon, for $7.5 million.

When the project was approved, the airport said it would reimburse Amazon $4.4 million for the design and construction of a new realignment of Tuskegee Road and to move and extend Todd Road. The center is expected to bring 1,500 jobs.

The planned fulfillment center in Garner will span 2.6 million square feet and will be four stories high. The center is to be built on the site of a ConAgra plant that exploded in 2009 and should be completed by the end of the year.

The company received $600,000 from the town and an agreement from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to invest $4.5 million in Jones Sausage Road to accommodate additional traffic.

Amazon said it has created 3,000 jobs directly and another 1,000 indirectly in North Carolina, according to a press release. The company operates 75 fulfillment centers across North America.