PERRYVILLE — More than a year after the Lidl regional distribution center in Principio Business Park was finished, activity at the cavernous warehouse has been sparse as the German grocery company reassessed its American expansion plans.

That changed Friday, March 29, when dozens of county residents and officials got inside the roughly 760,000-square-foot facility during an introductory open house. Many of those in attendance were former or current workers at the county’s other distribution centers, including Amazon, Ikea, Restoration Hardware and more, looking to get a sneak peek at a new opportunity.

Company officials told those welcomed inside that the Perryville facility won’t begin hiring until the end of 2019 though, disappointing some who came toting resumes. More than 100 positions for the center are expected to be listed on the Lidl website in coming months as the company ramps up plans to utilize the warehouse in earnest in 2020.

This week, Lidl U.S. spokesman Will Harwood told the Whig that the Perryville center will be the “backbone of our operations.”

“It represents $100 million in investment and the incredible effort we have in Cecil County,” he said. “We’re currently using it for training, and I can tell you we’re getting closer [to hiring employees there].”

Currently Lidl serves 67 locations in America using distribution centers in North Carolina and Virginia, company officials said last week. When operational, the Perryville center will service an area from Bowie, Md., to Staten Island, N.Y., officials said.

That service area currently only has nine stores in operation, but Lidl anticipates to have about 27 stores open in the service area by this time next year. The Perryville facility could reportedly service upward of 100 stores when at capacity.

“We are continuing to develop stores on the East Coast. Lidl has just acquired Best Market [a New York-based grocery chain] so that’s 24 stores in New York and New Jersey,” Harwood said. “We’re continuing to turn our attention on developing stores in Maryland and Virginia.”

Earlier this year, Lidl opened a location in Aberdeen, its second Maryland location. It also has one in nearby Middletown, Del.

While there have been plans for a location in Elkton for several years, it never broke ground and Harwood did not know its current status. Meanwhile, the company announced that its Easton location will open later this month.

In 2017, the Cecil County Council approved a matching $36,000 conditional loan for Lidl in connection with a $360,000 Maryland Economic Development Assistance and Authority Fund (MEDAAF) loan. Both loans would essentially turn into grants if Lidl meets employment and investment goals. The company is also eligible for various tax credits including Maryland’s Job Creation Tax Credit and Enterprise Zones Property Tax Credit.

The distribution center is about a year behind schedule in staffing, with original projections setting a goal of 100 full-time employees by December 2018.

On Friday, company officials touted its competitive pay and benefits package to those interested in applying for jobs, although they weren’t able to provide specifics on minimum wages and instead directed applicants to watch the company website.

Friday’s tour of the facility — photography was prohibited inside before the grand opening — showed off 32-foot-high rack with five tiers. With 144 bay doors, the product in the center is designed to only be stored for a few days at most, with product moving constantly out to stores to ensure freshness.

Nearly half of the facility, or about 380,000 square feet, is refrigerated. Vegetables, meat and dairy are all designed to be stored there in transit to stores, with the enormous freezer unit using cutting edge technology to keep product at 14 degrees below zero.

Officials also touted the safety features in the facility, including rebar-supported bumpers protecting the racks and thousands of zoned sprinkler heads above the floor. The facility also has radiant-heated floors and countless windows in the ceiling and walls, which both promote energy efficiency as well as mentally healthier workers.

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