CHIPPEWA FALLS — Saying the new Mills Fleet Farm distribution center is large doesn’t seem to do justice to the 1.1 million-square-foot facility in the northeast corner of Chippewa Falls.
“If it were empty, we could hold 17 football fields,” said plant manager Julie Engdahl.
The facility held a ceremonial sendoff Monday in which the first five semitrailer trucks loaded with products were shipped off to stores across the Midwest.
The company continues to hire employees to round out its staff. The facility currently has 146 employees, including drivers.
“We’ll be about 500 (workers) when fully staffed, including drivers and support staff,” Engdahl said. “We held a spontaneous job fair last Saturday. In four hours, we met about 100 people. We’ve got a lot of people to add, but we’ve had some success.”
The company already has a distribution center in Appleton, which will remain open. Rich Tannenbaum, Mills Fleet Farm chief supply chain officer, said this new facility features better automation such as a three-level conveyer system, which is used to sort through the 120,000 different items housed in the building.
“This will allow us to pick the products easier and send them off to each individual store,” Tannenbaum said.
Tannenbaum also pointed to the ceiling, saying it has a highly efficient lighting system, for which the lights only turn on when someone is present on the ground.
Mike Jordan, Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce president, was thrilled the company opened its doors to allow community leaders to see the building.
“It’s an incredible facility,” Jordan said. “It’s great for Chippewa Falls to have a building like this join the community. There are great employment opportunities.”
The trucks left the plant, breaking through a ribbon, as the 100 employees on hand cheered them on. Tannenbaum praised the workers, stressing how construction began in March 2017, with the ambitious goal of having it open within a year.
“We have done it,” Tannebaum said. “We are here, and we are operating.”
Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman echoed Tannenbaum’s comments.
“One of the biggest satisfactions as mayor is watching a project come together,” Hoffman told the crowd. “To have this come together — this quickly — really is amazing.”
The building officially opened in late December.
The employees work for DHL Supply Chain; they are not Mills Fleet Farm workers. As part of a developer’s agreement, the workers’ wages must average $15.60 an hour.
The distribution center is on a 70-acre parcel.