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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Fulex employees process items at the company's Chattanooga fulfillment warehouse on West 31st Street.

Fulex was a newcomer to Chattanooga's key transportation and logistics scene late last year as the fulfillment company was ramping up operations in a new city with a few employees.

Then the coronavirus outbreak hit earlier this year, sending business skyrocketing for the Detroit-based company and its Chattanooga distribution center, according to officials.

Today, the business has about 20 people in the Scenic City with plans to soon hire up to a dozen more and double its warehouse footprint to nearly 60,000 square feet, officials said.

"We're growing like crazy. What we experienced the last few months, we usually experience in October, November and December," said Fulex Vice President Robert Davison, calling it "a spring peak."

Gary Laney, who manages the company's West 31st Street warehouse, said the Chattanooga facility's orders have gone from about 80 a day to some 4,000 daily.

"The last four months with the pandemic, it's really taken off," he said.

Fulex, founded in 2003, fills orders for a variety of businesses, most of them small- or medium-sized and a number operated by entrepreneurs.

Davison said the company had distribution centers in Detroit and San Diego, but it needed another in the South to help meet requirements for one- to two-day shipping. Company officials had studied Chattanooga for a couple of years before making a move to the city in the last half of 2019, he said.

"By adding all three locations, we can offer online retailers ... one- to two-day shipping," said Davison. He termed it "the Amazon way."

When the pandemic hit, Fulex saw "a significant uptick" in order volume and a lot of new business came on board, Davison said.

Amazon, the giant in the distribution segment with two of its massive fulfillment centers in the Chattanooga area, was focused on so-called "essential items" such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other goods.

"They stopped a lot of clients' products from entering the warehouse," Davison said.

Businesses which had products not considered essential had to scramble to find warehouses to accept their goods to ship to customers, he said.

"We had a huge advantage," the company vice president said. "Using Amazon was not the only way to go. Our growth was very significant."

Davison said Fulex was taking on new clients almost every day.

"All our warehouses expanded significantly overnight," he said. "We kept all our workers busy. While others were laying off, we were hiring."

The company has kept business as it looks at moving to two shifts, which Fulex has never done, Davison said.

Laney said space at the Fulex warehouse in Chattanooga is at a premium. The site formerly held some operations for Chattanooga-based logistics company Kenco. Plans are to expand into adjacent space, Laney said.

"Any empty space we have ... is gone tomorrow," he said. "There's a lot of potential business for e-commerce."

Davison said a lot of Fulex clients have brick-and-mortar stores, but they also need an online presence.

Fulex is up to about 75 employees company-wide now. He declined to give a revenue figure for the company this year.

Davison said the company is taking steps needed to keep employees healthy, such as requiring face masks, offering hand sanitizing stations in the warehouse and added cleaning.

Amazon's Chattanooga center, too, has experienced a lot of growth amid the pandemic.

Chris Scanlon, the center's general manager, said last month during a walk-through of the sprawling local facility highlighting safety measures Amazon has put into place, that the site has doubled its workforce to over 3,000 employees from its headcount in January. He said the online company was still hiring to meet customers' growing demand for goods.

"I don't see an end in sight," Scanlon said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Fulex employee Ben Tucker works in the company's Chattanooga warehouse, which is expected to be expanded to meet demand.
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