Nebraska’s first Amazon ‘fulfillment center’ opens on sprawling Sarpy County site

Some 1,000 employees, with robots at their sides, ultimately could work at plant

By: - January 17, 2023 10:02 am

Amazon fulfillment center in Sarpy County opened Jan. 15th, 2023. (Courtesy of Amazon)

PAPILLION — Nebraska’s first and massive Amazon “fulfillment center” has opened in this Omaha metro area suburb, initially employing about 300 (not including robots that are to work alongside the humans).

The opening this week came later than the originally projected 2022 date, but sooner than the 2024 date that officials last year said was more likely due to “supply chain issues.”

New Amazon in Papillion area
Photo of Amazon facility near Sarpy County intersection of Highways 370 and 50, taken in July 2022, when officials predicted delayed 2024 opening. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Rescheduled launch unexplained

When asked about the timing changeup, Amazon spokesman Andy DiOrio said, “We’re always evaluating our network to ensure it fits our business needs and to improve the experience for our employees, customers, partners and drivers.”

DiOrio clarified the size of the facility, saying the 700,000 square feet mentioned in previous reports is its ground-level footprint. He said the structure overall spans more than 1 million square feet.

As has been typical, the retail giant did not specify the investment or price tag but said the venture comes in response to customer demand. It is Amazon’s first fulfillment center in the state, and will serve the Midwest region. 

The plant northeast of Nebraska Highways 370 and 50 is expected to create “at least 1,000 good jobs to maximize its capacity,” an Amazon statement said. Hiring continues for positions that start at $16.50 an hour, with benefits starting the first day.

“To open Amazon’s first sortable fulfillment center in Nebraska is a milestone moment and we look forward to further supporting customers in Papillion, Omaha and surrounding communities,” said site leader Aaron Schmidt.

Economic development coup

Papillion Mayor David Black said Tuesday that his community was excited to have the employment center in the region — “not to mention another top Fortune 500 company to call Papillion home.”

No City of Papillion tax breaks or incentives were involved, according to a spokesman. A spokeswoman for the State of Nebraska said Amazon is not under contract for any state incentives regarding the fulfillment center. 

When Amazon and Nebraska officials first announced the project via a virtual press conference in 2020, local business leaders described it as that year’s largest economic development coup in a seven-county area surrounding Omaha.

Greater Omaha Chamber leaders said then that they expected the operation to have a $203 million annual economic impact in the metro area.

Once fully operational, Amazon says the new Papillion center will be able to contain millions of products. It is the type of plant where employees pick, pack and ship customer orders such as books, toys and housewares.

Robots are to work alongside humans, preparing items for delivery to front porches. The Amazon Robotics technology creates “a more efficient process to meet customer demand,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon facility in Sarpy County
Amazon fulfillment center site opens in Sarpy County. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Code name ‘Willa’

Prior to the new center opening, Amazon said it had invested $250 million-plus in Nebraska since 2010, including infrastructure and compensation to employees. 

The land alone for the Papillion center, about 94 acres, sold several years ago to an Amazon affiliate for $12.3 million.

Amazon officials typically are secretive about their ventures. The Papillion project moved through the Papillion Planning Board approval process under the code name Willa.

The Papillion center is Amazon’s fifth operational location in the Omaha region. The company says that, in total, it currently has more than 1,000 employees in the area.

Other facilities include two delivery stations in Papillion and Omaha: an Amazon Air Gateway operation that opened at Eppley Airfield in February 2022 and a supplemental fulfillment center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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