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ST. CLOUD - The new Amazon delivery center in St. Cloud is the last stop for many packages before they land on customers' doorsteps.

The facility opened in mid-November with a crew of about 50 employees and dozens of contracted delivery vehicles.

"We're going to grow significantly," said Nick Lahti, site manager. "We're at less than a quarter [of] our capacity."

The delivery station, on Heatherwood Road near Interstate 94, is Amazon's first in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities metro area. It's expected to improve service for customers in central Minnesota, with a jurisdiction from St. Cloud west to Albany, southwest to Cold Spring and north to Rice, according to Lahti.

Delivery stations bring packages the "last mile," said Scott Seroka, Amazon spokesman. Packages typically travel from a fulfillment center — like the facility in Shakopee — to a sorting center and then to a delivery station. Now, instead of packages being delivered by carriers such as FedEx or UPS, packages are delivered by contractors called delivery service partners.

Iftin Hussein of St. Cloud owns Quality Express Inc., one of the delivery service partners based in St. Cloud. Hussein has 48 active drivers but said he is recruiting every day.

Kahiye Abdi, human resources manager for Quality Express, said he is working to hire people for all hours day and night.

"That's a major challenge right now," he said.

In addition to delivery partner drivers, Amazon uses "flex drivers," an initiative similar to DoorDash or Uber but for packages: Drivers pick up shifts using an app and then deliver packages using their own vehicle.

The first delivery trucks arrive at the facility around 2 a.m. Throughout the day, packages are sorted by geographic locations into routes and then loaded onto delivery vans. The first wave is dispatched at 8:40 a.m. and flex drivers generally pick up packages in the afternoon.

"It's certainly an interesting time to launch [an] operation," Lahti said. "And it's during the most critical time of the year for us."

Lahti said Amazon plans to build more facilities in Minnesota within the coming year.

"It's built on customer demand," he said.