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Indianapolis shippers brace for holidays

– The nation’s inland cargo crossroads – that’s you, central Indiana – is bracing for a record in holiday heavy lifting.

Thanks to growing online and catalog sales, parcel shipments should hit all-time highs this Christmas season, say FedEx and UPS, the nation’s two biggest shippers.

And that means mobilization time is nigh in the Indianapolis area, which has become a hub in the nation’s express shipping network.

Thousands of seasonal jobs must be filled and a D-Day’s worth of planes and trucks must be readied to handle all the cargo that will move through the Indianapolis area starting the week before Thanksgiving and running through Dec. 24.

“We’re looking forward to it, and we’re ready. Our employees kind of view peak season as the Super Bowl,” said Bob Palmer, vice president and general manager of freight services for FedEx.

The Memphisshipper operates its second-largest air cargo hub at Indianapolis International Airport, where it’ll hire 500 extra workers over the holiday crush to supplement its normal workforce of about 4,800. At its busiest, the hub will load 100 cargo planes and 200 trucks a day, about 20 percent more than usual.

“Basically, every plane we own will be flying,” Palmer said. “And I’ll be praying for no snow.”

UPS gears up as well (its air hub is Louisville), hiring about 650 seasonal workers locally and 55,000 companywide to help deliver an expected 527 million packages over the holidays, 10 percent more than last year’s record haul.

One holiday shipping trend UPS notices that heightens the shipping challenge: More shipments are compressed into the final two weeks before Christmas, as consumers adopt a just-in-time approach to their shopping habits.

Thus the need for legions of holiday temps, such as the driver’s helpers that UPS hires.

“The Santa’s elf job, I call it,” UPS spokeswoman Nancy Barczak said. “A lot of college kids like that job.” And not just because it pays $12.88 an hour. “You wear the brown uniform,” Barczak said.

The U.S. Postal Service’s 2,944 Indianapolis employees are preparing for a nearly 20 percent jump in shipping volume, which will reach its holiday peak on Dec. 20.

Central Indiana’s evolution into a bustling shipping hub has much to do with online retailer Amazon opening four of its largest fulfillments centers in the metro area in the past four years.

The mega-warehouses are in Plainfield, Whitestown and Indianapolis.

Amazon itself will hire several thousand extra workers over the holidays to staff its distribution centers, which hold anything from last Christmas’ No. 1 best-seller, the Kindle Fire tablet, to gift oddities such as HeatMax HotHands hand warmers.

(Amazon is secretive enough about its business that it won’t reveal its holiday sales prediction, but it volunteers the calculation that it sold enough HotHands hand warmers last Christmas to supply a pair to every resident of Iceland).

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