MANKATO — After years of recession-driven delays, Wal-Mart made the highly anticipated announcement Tuesday that it will open a new distribution center in Mankato in late 2015, possibly breaking ground this year.
The center, which will store and distribute perishables such as produce to Wal-Mart stores in the Upper Midwest, will be 420,000-square-foot building that will employ 300 people, most of them in full-time positions.
The company still plans to add a dry-box building to the distribution center in the future, which would add another 400,000 square feet. No timeline on that portion of the project has been set, city officials said.
The perishable portion is the high-value part of the distribution center with a high level of mechanization, refrigeration and freezing, city officials said.
“The Mankato distribution center will play an important role in Wal-Mart’s ability to serve customers in the region,” said Kevin X. Jones, divisional vice president of supply chain, in an interview with The Free Press.
“This is really a defining moment for us,” said Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges, saying the major project helps elevate Mankato as a strong regional center in the Upper Midwest.
Mayor Eric Anderson said the wait has been a long one with Wal-Mart purchasing the land on the northeast edge of Mankato in 2005.
“It’s wonderful. Obviously there’s been a lot of anticipation going way back,” Anderson said. “I think probably some people dismissed that it would happen.”
Paul Vogel, Mankato community development director, has ushered the project along since Wal-Mart first came to town, announced they would build a center to be open in 2008, then pulled back when the recession hit.
“This confirms Mankato has a business-friendly development process,” Vogel said. “We’ve done a lot of work planning out this northeast area along with partners like the county.”
The recently completed Blue Earth County Road 12 interchange with Highway 14 was the final piece needed in the area, Anderson said.
“The infrastructure is in place out there. Everything is in play for this to take off.”
Hentges and Vogel said they’ve been wowed by Wal-Mart’s commitment to sustainability and environmentalism. “Their drainage plan for this site, for example, exceeds any local or state standards,” Vogel said.
Hentges said the amount of planning and thought the company puts into projects is phenomenal.
“They don’t just slap up a distribution center in a corn field. It’s amazing what they do.”
Delia Garcia, director of communications for Wal-Mart, commended the city.
“We’re excited about what this means for our presence in Minnesota and our partnership with the city — they’ve been great to work with,” Garcia said.
She said the construction schedule hasn’t been finalized and the company still needs to identify a general contractor and send out bids.
Wal-Mart has been on a building spree in the Midwest, adding super centers that include groceries. Garcia said having perishable products closer to Midwest stores fulfills two goals.
“It reduces the road miles and advances our sustainability program by reducing our carbon footprint. But it also delivers fresher products to our customers.”
Garcia said employees at the distribution center will get competitive pay, and eligible full- and part-time associates will receive a comprehensive package of benefits, including affordable health and dental insurance, company funded 401(k), and facility performance based bonuses.
“Wal-Mart’s significant investment in a distribution center is a positive development for the region,” Bruce Nustad, Minnesota Retailers Association president, said in a statement. “It means job creation and business growth — two things we want to encourage in Minnesota.”