By Pam George
When the General Motors plant opened in 1947, the Newport, Delaware, facility produced about 30 models of cars, including Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. Generations of families worked in the plant, which was a looming landmark on Boxwood Road. But in 2009, a Pontiac Solstice was the last car to roll off the line. An icon for manufacturing in Delaware, the plant fell silent despite attempts to reuse it.
Soon, a symbol for today’s high-tech economy will take the plant’s place. Officials recently announced that Amazon will have a state-of-the-art fulfillment center on GM’s former site. The multilevel operations facility will span more than 820,000 square feet on the ground floor.
This is not the e-commerce giant’s first foray into the First state. In 1997, Amazon opened a fulfillment center in New Castle, followed by a center in Middletown in 2012. The facilities are among Amazon’s 110 fulfillment centers in North America and 185 around the world.
The Newport site will bring more than 1,000 full-time jobs to Delaware.
“Amazon already employs more than 2,500 Delawareans, and we welcome additional investments that will result in more jobs for Delaware families — especially at vacant industrial sites that are ideal for redevelopment,” said Gov. John Carney in a news release. “Delaware has a world-class workforce, a central location and a quality of life that is second to none. For those reasons and more, Delaware is a great place for businesses of all sizes to grow and create jobs.”
Newport-based Harvey, Hanna & Associates purchased the 142-acre parcel in 2017 after Fisker Automotive failed to reignite it. “The intention was to transform it into a 21st-century business campus and economic engine for New Castle Delaware,” said Thomas J. Hanna, president of the local real estate development company.
Harvey, Hanna & Associates, which has extensive revitalization plans for its hometown, razed the buildings in 2019 and, that year, sold the land to Dermody Properties, a Nevada-based real estate investment, development and management firm specializing in warehouses and e-commerce.
Dermody, which builds to suit primarily using its own and investor capital, has worked with Amazon in the past.
Bringing Amazon to Newport required a collaboration between the state, county and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), a nonprofit economic development agency.
“The DPP team celebrates all of the companies that choose Delaware for growth, and the Amazon project was particularly gratifying to work on,” said Kurt Foreman, president and CEO of the DPP. “Amazon’s choice reactivates a site for a project that will create more than 1,000 jobs and investment for our communities. And, that’s part of what we do — build stronger communities, one job at a time.”
Full-time Amazon employees receive $15 minimum wage, comprehensive benefits — including medical and dental — and a 401(d) with a 50% company match. In Newport, employees will work alongside robotic technology to pick, pack and ship smaller items, including books, electronics, toys and small household goods.
Amazon will also create positions in human resources, operations management, safety, security, finance and IT.
Not surprisingly, Dermody decisionmakers like Delaware’s central location. The site is minutes from the I-95 corridor, the Port of Wilmington and the Philadelphia International Airport.
The developer has a discerning eye. “They are an accomplished, best-in-class national industrial developer,” Hanna said.
Dermody has been developing, acquiring and investing in logistics, e-commerce and industrial real estate for nearly 60 years. The company has offices and properties across the United States, and warehouses in New Jersey, near Philadelphia and in the Lehigh Valley. Many are ideal for distribution centers.
In February, a Delaware state investment board agreed to give Amazon a $4.5 million grant to move to the site — $3 million tied to creating 1,000 full-time positions over three years and $1.5 million toward the fit-out of the Dermody-built center.
The grant comes from the state’s Strategic Fund, which is fueled by taxpayer dollars and managed by the Delaware Economic Development Authority’s Council on Development Finance.
“The Amazon location announcement says something about the state of our economy, but also about the spirit of our people in New Castle County,” said County Executive Matt Meyer in the release. “When you have one of our largest commercial sites, one that hasn’t created any jobs, barren for more than a decade, it speaks to the neighbor and community here. Now we’re going to have the retail operation of the future, creating more than 1,000 jobs, and we’ll have a workforce that will deliver for them.”
Hanna said Amazon’s arrival fits in with his company’s plan to make Greater Newport into a “vibrant, transit-oriented area with downtown mixed-use redevelopment, the reactivation of the SEPTA passenger rail stop and a new Greenways walking and bicycling trail along the Christiana River … This is an exciting time for New Castle County.”