Ecommerce stores warehouse

New York City’s last-mile warehouse boom requires new levels of technical know-how

By Cliff Goldsmith

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans shop, sending consumers online in
en masse – a phenomenon that has not fully subsided, even as COVID restrictions have been lifted.

This shift has sparked a boom in so-called “last mile” warehouses which are located in densely populated areas.
populated areas to reduce delivery times. My company, Suffolk, is currently building
two of these facilities in all five boroughs – one in Queens, the other in Brooklyn – and we have
made estimates for half a dozen others in recent months.

Building last mile warehouses presents unique challenges. Space is limited, so the
the traditional sprawling suburban model does not work. It means building, not going out. But
multi-storey warehouses are not the norm. In fact, the Queens facility we’re building is a first…
one-of-a-kind business for our client, whose tenant has warehouses across the country.

Building in a dense urban environment requires a different approach, more
technical and time-consuming than standard construction in which cranes are used to tilt
a series of concrete wall panels standing upright on a concrete slab base. That is both
cost-effective and fast, but not suitable for multi-storey structures.

Getting a multi-story warehouse done right requires a degree of sophistication and experience
not necessary for a simpler one-story building. Technologies such as 4D planning and
logistics simulations integrated into a complete virtual design and construction (VDC)
plan, which are typically used in more complex residential and commercial projects, for
example, can help streamline the process and control costs.

The same level of technological sophistication is also required inside these warehouses, which
are extremely advanced compared to their suburban counterparts. Ten years ago, a standard
the warehouse didn’t have much inside. It was basically an empty box in which the goods
were stored and the vehicles were parked. Today’s warehouses are data-driven hubs that enable
close monitoring of goods to minimize delivery times and maximize customer satisfaction.

And then there’s the delivery fleet itself, which is becoming more and more electric. It is especially
true in the case of last-mile facilities in states like New York, which have set ambitious goals
clean energy goals.

Governor Kathy Hochul has taken steps to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the
transport sector. In the private sector, various companies – from IKEA to FedEx – are
are either already using electric vehicles for last-mile deliveries, or are preparing to do so.

Of course, a fleet of electric delivery trucks requires charging stations, which must be
accommodated in a warehouse design without sacrificing significant space that is
already a bonus.

When you’re working on a more complex project like a tech-filled urban warehouse, there’s
very little room for error. The timeline is already slightly longer than a traditional single story
project, and major setbacks can lead to cost overruns and delays, which is bad for both
both customers and consumers. A combination of community, technology knowledge and experience
is critical to the success of a last mile warehouse.

The unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 virus coupled with the ease of online shopping has
has fueled the continued growth of e-commerce. Although the market has slowed down, experts predict that it
maintain its steady ascent. This means that demand for last mile facilities will remain
high. It is essential for entrepreneurs to ensure that they work harder to be up to the task
to meet the moment to play a key role in the future growth and economic prosperity of the city.

Cliff Goldsmith is Vice President of Operations at Suffolk Construction.

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