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Warehouse distribution centers bring jobs, but lack employee retention, says SU professor

Montante Construction LLC
A rendering of the proposed distribution center in DeWitt.

Another warehouse distribution center is being proposed in central New York, this time in the Town of DeWitt. That’s in addition to a giant facility approved for the Town of Clay, with the promise of 1,000 new jobs. But one local expert said there are reasons to be concerned.

Julie Niederhoff is an associate professor of Supply Chain Management at the Whitman School at Syracuse University. She said lots of cities across the country are getting these types of distribution centers, used by companies like Amazon. While they do create jobs, she said the number of employees who stay for more than a year is really low.

“There’s very few people who actually survive to the two-year point in their contract,” Niederhoff said. “They have a lot of good benefits available to employees. But most of them don’t come into effect until one of two years into employment.”

The psychological and physical stress of working at one of these facilities, she said, is high.

“You’re on your feet, you’re moving packages, it’s a very demanding job,” Niederhoff said. “The promises look great, but they don’t always come out as nice as they look on paper.”

At 112,000 square feet, the DeWitt distribution center is significantly smaller than the five-story, 3.8 million square foot facility in Clay. Niederhoff said the DeWitt location looks a lot like a classic same-day delivery Amazon fulfillment center, with packages coming in that are ready to go out to neighborhoods. 

"One-day delivery is difficult for them to do using third-party logistics like UPS or USPS," Niederhoff said.

The larger Clay location would likely hold big shipments of retail materials that would be stored and later pulled. No official announcements have been made for what company will be using either facility, so this is all still speculation.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he would like to have a tenet signed for the Clay location by the time he gives his State of the County speech next month.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.