The new Harbor Freight Tools distribution center in Joliet is 1.6 million square feet in size, with eight miles of conveyer lines inside, and a future payroll of 800 employees.
But the most impressive statistic may be the $21.50 an hour starting wage Harbor Freight is paying for workers.
“There’s no one paying more in this community. We want to build the best team,” Harbor Freight President Allan Mutchnik said during an interview after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday.
The size of the Harbor Freight facility makes it either the largest building in Will County or one of the top two, comparable in size to one of the two Walmart buildings in Elwood that together total 3.2 million square feet.
Most people might never see it.
The sprawling Harbor Freight building is in the CenterPoint Intermodal Center along an industrial stretch of Brandon Road that most people have no need to drive through.
But Mutchnik said the company wants to have a big impact on the community.
On Thursday, Harbor Freight donated $100,000 to the Joliet Township High School District to be used for skilled trades education and another $10,000 for upgrades at skilled trades classrooms along with what Mutchnik called “a bunch of tools.”
Mutchnik said the Harbor Freight Tools for School programs fits well with the company business as a tool retailer with more than 1,300 stores nationwide. The nearest one is in the Hillcrest Shopping Center in Crest Hill.
“We respect the creativity and intelligence of people who work with their hands, but all too often those people are not given the respect they deserve,” Mutchnik said during comments at the ceremony.
The Tools for Schools program helps students prepare for careers in high-paying fields such as carpentry, welding and auto repair, he said.
Other speakers at the ceremony expressed their appreciation for what the company is paying its employees at the distribution center.
“I want to thank Harbor Freight for coming to the community and raising the bar for what we’re willing to pay people in Joliet,” Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said.
If $21.50 isn’t the highest starting warehouse wage in the area, “it’s got to be pretty close,” Doug Pryor, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development said. “That is an incredibly competitive starting wage for a warehouse.”
Pryor said warehouse wages had been climbing since Amazon raised its starting wage to $15 an hour before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasingly competitive market for workers has continued to push wages up.
Even Harbor Freight recently upped its starting wage in Joliet from the $19 an hour still posted on a nearby billboard advertising for workers at the new facility.
The Joliet facility only has 170 employees now and has started a big push to hire more workers as it prepares to operate at full level by the end of June, said Mark Calloway, general manager for the site. A job fair will be held June 29.
The facility is Harbor Freight’s first in the Midwest. The company now has distribution centers in South Carolina and California.
The company is opening new stores at the rate of two a week.
“We are proud to be one of the fastest growing companies in retail,” Calloway said at the ceremony. “This new distribution center in Joliet is a key milestone in that growth.”