2012-10-25 / Top News

Cheney Brothers builds a road to new jobs

BY EVAN WILLIAMS


Cheney Brothers will build a vast high-tech warehouse near the Punta Gorda Airport. 
COURTESY IMAGE Cheney Brothers will build a vast high-tech warehouse near the Punta Gorda Airport. COURTESY IMAGE The West Palm Beach-based food distribution giant Cheney Brothers is moving forward with plans to build a vast, hightech warehouse near the Punta Gorda Airport. Crews are currently building a road, water and sewer lines to the site, where the 250,000-square-foot warehouse space will be equipped with a face recognition security system and computerized forklifts that allow workers to track 15,000 inventoried items down seemingly endless aisles. It only takes about 10 days for one of Cheney’s giant warehouses to turn over its product, company executives say, keeping hundreds of workers busy.

All that adds up to jobs in the eyes of Charlotte County commissioners. After citizens voted, they approved a 10-year property tax abatement to help woo the company. They say Cheney will be the county’s largest private employer.

Commissioners also estimate the number of people to be employed at the Charlotte location full time — after the hundreds employed in the building’s construction — will be up to 630. Those jobs include forklift operators, truck drivers, IT technicians, purchasing agents, human resources employees and others.

In addition, the new warehouse is expected to attract about 10 ancillary businesses on plots surrounding the building site and possibly other local business, such as repair operations for Cheney’s fleet of trucks or a food manufacturing business, said Cheney’s development specialist Warren Newell.

“There are other types of operations that follow behind us,” Mr. Newell said.

One estimate says the total average wage and benefit package for a Cheney job is $45,000. Cheney CEO Byron Russell said that average could be misleading because workers in the warehouse may earn more than that if they stock or unload more products accurately and receive bonuses. Likewise, they’re docked pay for poor performance. And a truck driver could earn $75,000 or more per year, Mr. Russell pointed out.

The company, founded in 1925, says it exceeds a billion dollars in revenue annually. It currently operates three warehouse facilities: its 325,000-squarefoot headquarters in Riviera Beach; a 480,000-square-foot center in Ocala; and a smaller 66,000-square-foot facility in Orlando. The Charlotte County warehouse is expected to cost upwards of $25 million. It’s being built by Florida Premier Contractors. President Rob Humpel said construction began on the half-mile road and utilities leading to the warehouse at the beginning of October.

The current construction is being funded with a $700,000 state transportation grant for the road, and $480,000 from the county for utilities. The work should be completed next year.

The airport authority, which owns the property where the road is being built, granted an easement to the company. All three entities are “basically pitching in to help Cheney (Brothers) further the development of this site,” Mr. Humpel said. “One of the reasons they’ve done that is this road will serve 10 other parcels of property.”

The warehouse itself is expected to be under construction late next year. ¦

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