DHL Breaks Ground on Wilmington, Ohio, Package-Sorting Center

WILMINGTON, Ohio -- DHL executives broke ground for a new package-sorting center at Wilmington Air Park with help from politicians, but the company is still reviewing two competing financing proposals from port authorities in Montgomery and Clinton counties.

Gov. Bob Taft, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, turned spades of dirt in a small circle cut into a concrete apron where the new center will go.

The $73 million sort center $205 million including the sort equipment -- is the heart of DHL's $300 million expansion project outside Wilmington, where it's consolidating operations of the former Airborne Express and DHL's current hub at Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Other project elements include support buildings, aircraft parking aprons and employee parking.

The Wilmington work is part of a $1.2 billion investment DHL is making to expand its North American operations.

The Wilmington expansion has delighted local and state officials because it retains 6,000 jobs already at the air park, promises to add another 600 full-time and 300 part-time jobs, and will create about 750 construction jobs between now and May 2006, when the project is to be finished.

"You can keep making those mortgage payments and those payments on the car, and maybe buy that house that you've been thinking about," Voinovich, told an audience of DHL and ABX Air Inc. employees. ABX is the Wilmington-based cargo airline Airborne Express spun off when it merged with DHL.

DHL acquired the air park in the merger. ABX is an independent operation, but it depends on DHL for business.

DHL, the Clinton County Commission and the Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority worked out a plan to issue $300 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance the Wilmington project. The port authority would own the facilities and lease them to DHL.

The port authority approved a plan in September, but this month, just before the deal was to be signed, the Clinton County Commission created a port authority and said it would offer its own financing proposal.

Michael Schmitt, director of hub development, said DHL is evaluating the Clinton County offer. Taft praised local and state officials for creating a "very strong and broad package of incentives" to attract DHL, including a jobs-retention tax credit, jobs-creation tax credit, money for job training and infrastructure improvements, and low-cost financing.

Taft also said the state is committed to building a highway bypass around Wilmington "at the earliest possible date." Several state roads now wind through the city's downtown before reaching the air park.

John Fellows, chief executive officer of DHL Americas, called the project "the largest single capital investment project undertaken by DHL in the United States."

Without adjusting for inflation, Fellows said the $300 million DHL is pouring into Wilmington is more than all the former Airborne Express spent on the site.

Without naming them, Fellows also said the project makes DHL a stronger competitor to FedEx and UPS, which dominate the express shipping market.

"We're not just building a new facility here in Wilmington. We're building a strong alternative to the duopoly that for too long has controlled the express market in the U.S.," he said.

But this month, UPS announced it was buying CNF Inc.'s Emery Worldwide Forwarding unit, which includes the former Emery Worldwide air freight hub at Dayton International Airport. It isn't clear what UPS plans to do with the hub, which employs 1,465 people at the airport.