Updated: Amazon planning huge robotics fulfillment center near Richmond Raceway, to add 1,000 jobs

Work has started on the site where Amazon’s robotics fulfillment center will rise. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

The checkered flag is out on Project Speedway, with online retailer Amazon first across the finish line.

The governor’s office announced Wednesday that Amazon will locate a robotics fulfillment center in the 2.6 million-square-foot industrial complex that Texas-based Hillwood Enterprises is planning on land north of Richmond Raceway.

The center is expected to create 1,000 jobs, despite the robotics technology involved with the facility. It’s slated to start operations in 2022 and will be the first of its kind in Central Virginia. A similar facility, in Suffolk, was announced last year and is slated to open later this year.

Wednesday’s announcement confirms Amazon’s involvement with the development, codenamed Project Speedway. The five-story building, which is based off a 650,000-square-foot footprint, is one of several across the country that Hillwood has developed with the online retailer signed on as a tenant.

The building will rise on a 120-acre portion of the 247-acre site, which straddles Richmond Henrico Turnpike and has been used for overflow parking for the raceway. Last week, the raceway sold that 120-acre plot, at 5901 Richmond Henrico Turnpike, to Hillwood for $7.7 million.

The 247 acres straddle Richmond Henrico Turnpike just north of the raceway.

The rest of the land, at 5900 Richmond Henrico Turnpike, remained under raceway ownership as of Wednesday, according to Henrico property records. The county most recently assessed that property at $1.5 million. The 5901 property, where site work for the project is already underway, was assessed at $2.9 million.

The announcement did not specify how much Amazon plans to invest in the facility. A spokeswoman said the company is not disclosing that figure.

“I can tell you we’re excited about the great jobs we have created across the state, which offer competitive pay and comprehensive benefits starting on day one,” spokeswoman Courtney Norman said. “We are proud to call Virginia home and will continue to invest in the state, and in the communities in which our employees live and work.”

Norman said the facility’s robotics technology is designed to assist the employees who will work alongside the machines to sort through, package and ship smaller goods such as books, electronics and household items. She said the robots are not intended to ultimately replace the employees.

“It really impacts the way that our employees perform their day-to-day jobs,” Norman said. “It makes it easier for them, because they’re working with that assisted and collaborative technology to extend the human reach, and it also frees up their time for more skilled tasks.”

A rendering of the five-story building planned for Amazon’s facility. (Courtesy Hillwood Development Facebook)

The project came about through coordination with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Henrico Economic Development Authority, the Port of Virginia and the Greater Richmond Partnership.

Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico EDA, said the process started last year when the raceway and Hillwood approached the county about rezoning the land for industrial development, leading to a rezoning application that was filed last fall.

“Hillwood has done a number of projects with Amazon and with NASCAR. That’s the marriage, if you will, of bringing these three groups together,” Romanello said, adding that Amazon was brought into the picture once the rezoning was approved.

Hillwood, based in Dallas, is led by Ross Perot Jr., the son of the late businessman and 1990s presidential candidate Ross Perot Sr. It has developed dozens of industrial projects all over the country and in Poland, with several of its more recent projects being built for Amazon.

In March of last year, Hillwood and NASCAR announced an exclusive arrangement to improve surplus land in the auto racing company’s real estate portfolio, with an initial focus on 13 markets across the country. The companies said at the time that a goal of developing the un-utilized land was to create jobs and increase wealth in communities where NASCAR operates.

Romanello lauded the efforts of all of the parties involved in bringing the Richmond Raceway project together.

“This project is about jobs for Henrico families. We’re proud to be No. 2 in Virginia for total jobs, and coming out of the pandemic, it’s never been more important for the people of Henrico and Central Virginia to have good employment opportunities,” Romanello said. “It’s partnerships like these that will help us grow our economy.”

Amazon delivery trucks filled a staging area across from the fulfillment center site on Wednesday.

Amazon is eligible for benefits from the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone Grant Program and the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program. Support for employee training will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

The facility will add to two other fulfillment centers that Amazon operates in the region: at 1901 Meadowville Technology Parkway in Chesterfield County, and at 5000 Commerce Way in Dinwiddie County. Those centers employ more than 1,100 people combined and each stand at around 1 million square feet.

Other Amazon facilities in the region include a distribution center at 4949 Commerce Road in Richmond. The company also leases two 320,000-square-foot buildings, in Chesterfield at 1601 Bellwood Road and in Hanover in the Exchange at Northlake Industrial Park. Both of those buildings were built by developer Devon USA.

Amazon has previously had a presence near the raceway, in an industrial park at 4101 Carolina Ave., where third-party Amazon contractor Bear Down Logistics halted operations after Amazon cut ties with the company. Henrico-based Allegiance Logistics currently coordinates Amazon deliveries at the raceway, with a truck staging area set up across the street from the planned fulfillment center site.

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Ed Christina
Ed Christina
6 months ago

Well, that is an area that hasn’t had a lot going on in it for a very long time.
I would guess they will get to 95 via Wilkerson?

I suppose this will lead to a tearing down of the Tree House apartment complex?

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
6 months ago

I think there’ll be a better way than to use Wilkerson Road. The interesting part of this story, at least to me, is the mention of robotics. I’ve heard for years that all Amazon facilities are set up for robotics, and they’ll make the switch once the installation of those machines is less expensive than the labor that they’ll replace. The liberals insistence on a higher minimum wage could very well push the cost of labor (which includes social security, healthcare, etc) past that threshold, resulting in mass layoffs. Its a fine line to walk between the company, the government… Read more »

SA Chaplin
SA Chaplin
6 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

I agree, Bruce. A lot of people don’t realize that the minimum wage can hurt the very people it is intended to help. Similar is the “hero pay” legislation that required grocers to pay their workers an additional $5/hour during the pandemic. It resulted in grocers in L.A. closing three stores.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
6 months ago
Reply to  SA Chaplin

You guys do realize Amazon is one of the biggest corporate supporters of the $15 wage right? They’ve been paying the $15 wage since 2018.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
6 months ago
Reply to  David Humphrey

If that’s the case, then hooray for Amazon. One just never knows where the threshold is.

Steve Fox
Steve Fox
6 months ago
Reply to  David Humphrey

That is bc they took away free stock for their employees to provide it. Also, they know it’ll crush smaller businesses. Oh and they get away with not paying any taxes.

Carl Schwendeman
Carl Schwendeman
6 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

There going to replace people with robots no mater what the minimum wage is.

John Fishbonde
John Fishbonde
6 months ago

Agreed. All of the talk of 1000 jobs for humans is simply a diversion to keep people from getting upset. This facility will be all robots within 5 years, regardless of issues relating to wages or anything else.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
6 months ago
Reply to  John Fishbonde

Robots are machines. Machines need to be designed, manufactured, maintained and repaired. Does anyone think the automobile cost people jobs? Quite the contrary.

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas
6 months ago

I mean, most corporations would replace robots with people if the people were cheaper, too. They’ll do whatever keeps costs as low as possible.

Garry Whelan
Garry Whelan
6 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Amazon will make the switch as soon as they develop robots that can replace humans for some of the more dexterous tasks. If you think progress towards a living wage will stop this happening and is a bad thing, then you hold corporations in too high a regard and people too low.
A minimum wage should allow an adult to feed, clothe, shelter and ensure healthcare for themselves and get to and from work. Anything else is poverty wage.

John Jones
John Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  Garry Whelan

Thankfully someone speaks truth. Minimum wage absolutely should cover basic necessitates and living expenses in a modern society. Sad to see the wealth sit back and call it a bad idea for the people it is supposed to help. How tone deaf.

Garry Whelan
Garry Whelan
6 months ago

Does anyone in power ask about the employment status of the ‘jobs’ being created? In most warehousing and DC facilities the majority of staff are contract staff employed through agencies. They don’t have the benefits or wages of full time core employees and are often on low guaranteed hours, with variations on a weekly basis.
These are not ‘Amazon jobs’ and we should be pushing back against this practice where staff have no rights, no benefits, no health insurance.

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
6 months ago
Reply to  Garry Whelan

Great point. There is so much of this practice with low wage workers who never get benefits from companies who pay very little in taxes. In turn, the more fortunate taxpayers support the working poor who need to rely on emergency rooms for healthcare and food subsidies. Meanwhile, people think their taxes should be cut and never raised. It is a frustrating and vicious cycle that will get worse in years to come.

Roger Turner
Roger Turner
6 months ago
Reply to  Garry Whelan

Garry – I am not taking up for people that abuse employees by changing the rules, making them work off clock hours, etc. But doesn’t the worker have the right to decide if they want to take the job or not at the wage they are being paid? I am almost certain that someone that takes a low benefit job at $15 an hour doesn’t have better options out there. If it’s between $15 an hour at Amazon with no benefits or $10 washing dishes with no benefits than one could argue they are much better off to be in… Read more »

Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
6 months ago

Great news for an area that needs a boost and jobs for the community. I suspect the 1,000 jobs is a baseline for getting incentives from the city or state to open here. I hope those jobs are still in place 2-3 years after opening and the robots are not doing 90% of the work.

Devon Allen
Devon Allen
6 months ago
Reply to  Jackson Joyner

*County

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
6 months ago

This doesn’t look like a facility designed for robots. Robots don’t need sunlight.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
6 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Per the article, robots will assist real live employees (aka heavy lifting and repetitive motions). This will improve production and reduce injuries.