Home Depot to hire 1,000 workers, expand distribution in metro Atlanta

Home Depot Tuesday announced plans to open three new distribution centers and hire about 1,000 workers. (AP file photo)

Home Depot Tuesday announced plans to open three new distribution centers and hire about 1,000 workers. (AP file photo)

Home Depot plans to add 1,000 jobs in three new metro Atlanta distribution centers that will open next year, welcome news for an economy struggling to regain its footing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Atlanta-based home improvement giant said Tuesday it is adding centers in Locust Grove, Stonecrest and East Point largely to meet a growing demand by its core customers — professional contractors and serious do-it-yourselfers — for fast pick-up and delivery.

“Less than 5% of our customer base is responsible for 45% of our sales. It’s very, very important that we have a strategy for these customers,” said Stephanie Smith, senior vice president.

Home Depot is among a minority of retailers seeing a surge of business that is partly due to having so many consumers anxious to buy, but reluctant to enter a store.

Sales at Sandy Springs-based delivery giant UPS, for example, boomed during the second quarter as shipments from business to consumer rocketed 65%. UPS, which has about a half-million workers worldwide, has hired nearly 40,000 more to keep up with orders.

E-commerce giant Amazon has also been hiring for warehouses and delivery around the state.

Home Depot has more than 2,200 retail stores, but has been accelerating online efforts in the past few years. Putting distribution centers closer to customers makes it increasingly possible to make deliveries the same day or the next day after an order.

News of hiring comes as many parts of the economy, including major retailers, strain under the weight of mounting coronavirus cases. Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter — an unprecedented plunge. Iconic chains like Brooks Brothers, J.Crew and Lord & Taylor have announced plans to seek bankruptcy protection.

Georgia’s Department of Labor has processed about 3.3 million jobless claims since mid-March, and the number of unemployed continues to outpace job openings. The state’s unemployment rate was 7.6% in June, down from a high of 12.6% in April, but still far above the state’s record low of 3.1% in February.

Spokespersons for Gov. Brian Kemp said the state government was involved in developing the Home Depot projects, including the participation of the Georgia Department of Economic Development and city and county governments. They did not share additional details.

Home Depot said it chose the locations to be close to the customers it needs to serve, and that the projects were in the works long before the pandemic caused a surge in online commerce. Three years ago, the company announced plans to make a $1.2 billion investment in its distribution network.

“I don’t think (the pandemic) has changed our strategy very much — we want to go where our customers are telling us to go,” said Home Depot’s Smith. “I would say it’s been amplified during COVID.”

The company has six similar supply chain centers already in Georgia.

Home Depot, the largest, Georgia-based company by annual sales with $110 billion last year, has 27,000 employees in the state and more than 400,000 overall, most of them in the United States.

Hiring of 600 workers has already begun at the Locust Grove center, which is set to open early next year. The facility’s main function will be restocking stores in the Southeast.

The two other new centers will deliver directly to customers, Smith said.

The Stonecrest center, set to open next summer, sits near a rail line. It will receive, store and deliver the kinds of materials that come off flat-bed trucks and rail cars, including lumber, concrete and dry wall. It will employ about 100 workers.

The East Point center, planned for opening in late 2021, will be the staging area for deliveries of furniture, appliances and other material. It will employ about 300.