AIKEN - In the beginning, there were questions - lots of questions.
The first 21 employees of UPS Customhouse Brokerage Inc. began work Tuesday in Centennial Corporate Center on the southside.
Their goal for the day was to process 450 import shipments from Great Britain and Ireland by 4 p.m.
They did so with full knowledge that the U.S. government does not take kindly to mistakes.
"Everybody is doing good," said Chris Sowers, the lead trainer at the Aiken site. "But they've had tons of questions. It's a little stressful for them. They make their own decisions and are responsible for them. Every person could probably use their own trainer today."
Mr. Sowers said most of the United Parcel Service employees got their electronic "paperwork" correct but faced hitting the send button with a little trepidation.
He said any mistakes are relayed - with the employee's name attached - to a post-entry department at the customhouse brokerage division's headquarters in Louisville, Ky. That gives the company a second chance to get the processing correct.
Jim Anderson, the brokerage operations manager, said the work can be daunting. "You might have one shipment that's huge in volume and complexity. You might have 100 lines of entries in that one shipment."
No shipments are physically received at the Aiken site. Instead, the location serves as support for UPS customhouse brokerages in Anchorage, Alaska; Ontario, Calif.; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Louisville. Another brokerage is soon to open in Miami. Those sites are set up to receive goods and process them.
Aiken is slated by the beginning of next year to be the only UPS brokerage site to process expedited goods from all over Europe.
"We're not taking any jobs away from any brokerage," Mr. Anderson said. "We're not downsizing. (Aiken) is simply a growth site."
New employee Susanna Satchell of Trenton, S.C., seemed anything but nervous as she worked to clear horse saddle shipments from British company Equi-librium Ltd. to an individual receiving the goods in Florida.
She said she likes the job so far, although it's a "big change" from what she had been doing - keeping books and making sales for a jewelry store.
Corporate systems analyst Karen Thompson said getting the brokerage site functional and interactive with other company operations was no small task. Regardless, she said, "This is one of the smoothest operations we've had up and running in a long time."
She said starting with a relatively small number of people as compared with other sites helped.
Eventually, the brokerage will operate 24 hours a day, six days a week and employ approximately 500 people, Mr. Anderson said. At present there is one shift, five days a week and plenty of room to expand within the 52,000-square-foot building.
A second class of UPS employees is set to begin orientation at the end of this week and training next week.
Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.