Amazon deal: What's next for Wilmington?

Wilmington Air Park to lose 300 jobs
Posted at 12:26 PM, Feb 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-02 19:21:20-05

CINCINNATI -- Another big win for Hebron, another big setback for Wilmington.

That’s one way to look at Tuesday’s announcement that Amazon Inc. will invest nearly $1.5 billion in a new cargo hub in Kentucky. But the news isn’t all bad for Wilmington Air Park, which is talking to other aviation prospects about replacing Amazon Prime Air.

“We are having conversations with a number of different users,” said Dan Evers, executive director of the Clinton County Port Authority.

Wilmington-based Air Transport Services Group Inc., which operates 15 planes for Amazon Prime Air, said about 300 jobs will be lost in Clinton County because of the hub's relocation. But it will continue to handle maintenance work in Wilmington for the Amazon fleet, a relationship that supports about 800 jobs.

“While we had hoped that Amazon would choose to expand the sortation and other logistics operations we manage for them here at the Wilmington Air Park and bring more jobs in southwestern Ohio, we certainly appreciate their confidence in our ability to support the development, launch and expansion of the dedicated air network that began here sixteen months ago," said Joe Hete, CEO of ATSG. "The fifteen Boeing 767 freighters we lease to and operate for Amazon, plus five more coming this year, make us proud to be a part of their growth, and we remain committed to support their efforts to delight Amazon customers around the world with exceptional service every day.”

The loss of 300 jobs is not as big a hit as the 2008 decision by DHL Express to close its U.S. parcel delivery hub in Wilmington. Employment dropped from nearly 8,000 to about 700 after that announcement.

Evers said it’s now back to roughly 1,300. An affiliate of ATSG has a contract to provide up to 20 planes for Amazon, which signed a separate deal this year to lease another 20 planes from Atlas Air. The Hebron hub will handle all 40 planes, once Amazon fully ramps up its operation.

Evers would have preferred to see those planes landing in Wilmington, but he can still sell the idea that Amazon

“An operation that began here as a startup has proven to be viable,” Evers said. “The Wilmington Air Park was one of the final locations that were under consideration for permanent operation and investment. So, what that tells us in pretty clear and empirical ways is that this is a viable location for air cargo, air freight and aviation-related commercial operations.”

Still, Evers admits to being disappointed by what might have been.

Amazon told Kentucky’s Economic Development Finance Authority that it would start with 100 jobs in Northern Kentucky, growing to 600 full-time jobs within six years. Airport officials expect more than 2,000 material-handling jobs to be added on a 900-acre site that Amazon will lease for 50 years.

“This will be transformational in many ways,” said Boone County Judge Executive Gary Moore. “Being the primary hub for Amazon Prime, you can see many other possibilities of freight coming and going. We’ve discussed already the idea of more freight being in the bellies of aircraft that may be duel aircraft.”

By offering passenger airlines a chance to make additional revenue from cargo, CVG may be able to attract more passenger service, Moore said.

Not to mention more manufacturing.

“You can’t get rid of the product you make unless you can get it out of the community,” said Kenton County Judge Executive Chris Knochelman. “This gives us (a new way to attract) businesses that want to open a manufacturing facility when they see both DHL and Amazon have the footprint they have here. It absolutely will spin off on a lot of things.”