If all of the more than 1.3 billion cases shipped from the Hermiston Walmart Distribution Center since its opening in April 1998 were laid end to end, they would circle the earth 13 times.
Those goods passing through Hermiston over the last 20 years represent about $54 billion in revenue, according to general manager Josh Burns.
“That’s a pretty good chunk of change,” he told the crowd at the distribution center’s 20th anniversary celebration on Tuesday.
The economic engine represented by the center — which has 26 acres under its roof and could fit 10 Walmart stores inside — can be hard to comprehend. But distribution centers like Hermiston’s are vital to Walmart’s efforts to stay competitive in a digital age. Greg Smith, executive vice president of Walmart’s supply chain company-wide based in Betonville, Arkansas, told the group that the Hermiston DC has “distinguished itself across our distribution centers.”
“You are one of our most productive distribution centers,” he said.
He also praised the associates and managers there for an impressive safety record that continues to improve. He said having the “best supply chain” will be what helps Walmart continue to succeed in a changing era.
“We look forward to the example you will set across our organization,” he said.
The Hermiston Walmart DC isn’t just important to the company — it’s also an economic driver for Umatilla County. The DC employs about 1,100 people. Mark Morgan, assistant city manager for Hermiston, said about eight percent of jobs on the west side of Umatilla County are found at the DC. That doesn’t count the hundreds of people who work for the Walmart store also found in Hermiston, or an estimated additional 1,100 jobs created indirectly by the presence of the DC and its employees. The city has grown by more than 6,000 people since the DC came to town.
“Walmart really is the Hermiston community,” Morgan said. “If not for Walmart we wouldn’t have the same community here.”
That’s the type of thing many of the company’s employees wish people understood when they criticized the massive corporation. Becky Lowrance, who has worked at the DC since it first opened in 1998, said critics often miss all of the community service and donations provided by the company in addition to providing stable employment for so many people.
She pointed to the Walmart Heart Program, in which drivers for the company “adopt” children with chronic or terminal illnesses for a special day focused on lifting their spirits.
“We have a lot of drivers volunteer their time to it,” she said. “For me, it has been my baby for a long time. I tear up any time I think about it.”
Lowrance was working as a waitress when the DC was being built, and decided to apply after some of the managers there for the hiring spree started frequenting the restaurant where she worked. She started out in the warehouse and is now the transportation operations manager.
Miguel A. Ornelas, another operations manager, said he started at the Distribution Center after graduating from college and figuring he could work for Walmart until he got a “real job.” Twenty years later he is happy to still be with the DC, where 80 percent of the management was promoted from within.
“They were so growth-focused on the associates and their development,” he said. “They made me feel part of a team.”
After speeches, cake and a special recognition by name of each of the 50 employees who have been with the DC from the beginning, attendees were offered tours of the facility.
The distribution center acts as a hub, taking in shipments of everything from dog food to kayaks from the company’s various suppliers and then sorting them into trucks bound for 106 individual stores across the western United States.
“Say Johnson & Johnson sends us a box with 70 shampoos and a store only needs 12, we can pluck those out of a box and send them to the store,” said HR office manager Kristina Olivas during a tour.
The process is helped along by a combination of 22 miles of conveyor belts winding through the facility and an army of associates who can wrap up individual items on pallets or handle items too large or fragile for the conveyor belts. After boxes are unpacked, flattened and sent back out of the center in loads they will be reused multiple times until they wear out.
At the end of the process are the associates who load the outbound trucks.
“It’s not a matter of just loading everything onto trailers, it’s actually quite intricate,” Olivas said, likening it to “a giant game of Tetris.”
The associates must quickly fit a variety of odd-shaped cases and pallets in as efficiently as possible, keeping labels upright while also taking into account factors like a safe weight distribution for when trailers are turning sharply.
The massive facility is the last of that specific design built before a new design was implemented, but the company is impressed with what the facility’s employees have accomplished, and Burns said as general manager he hoped everyone who worked at the Hermiston Walmart Distribution Center was extremely proud of their work.
“I just want to close with one word and that’s ‘proud,’” he said. “... This team is amazing, what we do here is amazing and spread across 20 years that’s amazing.”