Reliable power for reliable packages
The FAR1 Amazon Fulfillment Center has become the latest Cass County Electric Cooperative member in a growing Fargo community.
Life has been moving fast for John Sabo this year. In July, he was brought onto the Amazon team molding the final features of the FAR1 Fulfillment Center under construction on the north side of Fargo, N.D. As the building’s new general manager, Sabo wrapped up his life and shipped himself to North Dakota as quickly as an Amazon Prime package.
The speed of light is the typical pace of the multibillion-dollar business, and the design and execution of the massive facility certainly didn’t buck the trend.
“If you think about what it takes to build a 1.1 million-square-foot facility seven feet above the floodplain, all in 12 months – it’s impressive,” Sabo said from his office inside the FAR1 facility. “Amazon has launched a significant number of buildings in the last 15 years, and we’ve become better at it. I am extremely happy with the way things have turned out.”
Fargo’s Amazon Fulfillment Center is the company’s way of providing enhanced service to its customer base in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The facility will feed a supporting network of additional buildings in the region that run last-mile delivery to homes and businesses.
“People in Fargo, much like people in Los Angeles, probably want something as fast as they can get it,” Sabo said. “So this is how we provide that.”
To do big things, Amazon had to build big. FAR1, which began delivering packages in early October, boasts 7.8 million cubic feet of interior space and a 22-football-field-sized footprint. The perimeter of the building contains 132 dock doors for inbound and outbound deliveries. To sustain all of the conveyors and robotics technology that brings shipments to the shelf and back again, 1.4 million feet of wiring winds throughout the facility.
“It’s the biggest physical structure in the state right now, so the power demands are not insignificant,” Sabo said with a smile.
Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) and Minnkota Power Cooperative were ready for this call for kilowatts. CCEC business accounts executive Chad Brousseau said an incredible amount of work was put in by the cooperative’s engineering team and line crews over the past year to prepare for their newest member-consumer.
“These infrastructure upgrades will also benefit our existing members in the area, supporting our already strong reliability numbers and offering additional contingency options,” Brousseau said.
The Amazon facility is just the start of the industrial development expected north of Fargo and West Fargo. The FAR1 construction announcement served as an ideal launching point for plans to design and build a new distribution substation in the shadow of Minnkota’s Maple River transmission substation, along with a new underground distribution feeder. The existing two distribution substations that deliver electricity to the area were becoming overwhelmed with recent growth, and the benefits of the boosted system will be multifold.
“We needed the new Maple River substation for two reasons,” explained Minnkota engineering manager Kasey Borboa. “One was we needed to offload the existing substations, and to provide a backup source in case one of those substations ever went down. But it’s also for future load growth. The substation we’re building is plenty big enough for any additional industrial load that would come to that area.”
Minnkota’s engineering department worked with CCEC on a series of studies to determine the transmission and transformer needs of the expanding north end of the metro. The analysis proved the need for the Maple River substation addition, and the team started design work in January 2021. The project progressed rapidly – it was designed and constructed in approximately 10 months.
“It was a quick turnaround. Our people answered the call and they did the work,” Borboa said, speaking to the talent and dedication of the engineers and field crews. “For them to put it all together, put it up and complete it is a huge, huge task.”
Partnering for development
When the Maple River substation was energized in mid-October, it became the latest of 10 substations electrifying the Fargo community. Many of those have been expanded in the past several years to match the expanding demand of the city – demand that will continue to evolve.
“There’s a lot of additional growth expected in that area, beyond Amazon,” Borboa said. “We’re doing these projects to keep up with the growth rate and make sure that we have adequate capacity to serve our members and the loads they’re bringing on. The City of Fargo and Cass County have been doing a fantastic job of getting these companies to commit to come into the area.”
“Any time a new business or an existing business expands in the Fargo area, it’s a boost to the local economy and benefits the greater Fargo-Moorhead area,” CCEC’s Brousseau added. “Growth is also a good thing for the cooperative and for our members, helping to keep electric rates stable.”
When the FAR1 facility ramps to a full employee headcount of 1,400 over the next few months, it will become the tenth largest employer in the Fargo area. Sabo knows that comes with a responsibility to the community. He has already met with the mayors of Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead to discuss the beneficial partnerships they can build, and he will soon check in with local university presidents to examine how Amazon can play a role in creating career paths for students.
Although Sabo is thrilled to get Amazon packages to Upper Midwest doorsteps faster, his long-term goal is to deliver the full package of regional development.
“When we think about what being a good community partner looks like, it’s not necessarily just absorbing labor from the local market,” he said. “It’s being able to provide opportunities and, ideally, help Fargo and West Fargo grow.”
MAIN IMAGE: FAR1 Amazon Fulfillment Center general manager John Sabo explains how hundreds of racks in the facility will soon be filled with inbound and outbound products. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)