The Mess DHL Left Behind When It Pulled Out Of The US

When DHL ended domestic shipping and laid off 9,500 people back in November, 60 Minutes says it was losing $6 million a day. Now the people of Wilmington, Ohio are cleaning up the mess that DHL left and are wondering what’s next.

In 1980, Airborne Express turned Wilmington’s abandoned Air Force base into a hub for overnight shipping. Eight thousand people found work at what they call “the air park.” Then, in 2003 a German company, DHL, bought Airborne in an effort to win a big piece of the U.S. market. It didn’t work. The merger was rocky, there were service disruptions, and customers left in droves. With last fall’s economic crash, DHL was losing $6 million a day in the U.S.; layoffs started coming by the hundreds.

People who worked there for decades found themselves in DHL-sponsored meetings learning about unemployment.

Economic Storm Batters Ohio Town [60 Minutes]


Edit Your Comment

  1. KyleOrton says:

    They forgot about one of their drop boxes and ignored it, continually filling, for a week or so before I caught it. Being right before Christmas, I would imagine there were some late packages as a result.

    • KyleOrton says:

      @KyleOrton: That said, I don’t think the people in the video were responsible for its problems. The local drivers were absolutely terrible.

      Hopefully some new industry will see that town as a human-resources, low cost boon.

      • econobiker says:

        @KyleOrton: I echo yes that the drivers were pretty poor. I shipped about 12 boxes of camping equipment from NJ to TN during the summer of 2006. The stuff tracked as arrived (though one box never tracked but did arrive with the rest) but calls to the local office/hub were fruitless. After about a week the boxes finally showed up on a Saturday. The ultra nice driver basically said he was the low man down and got to “clean up” shipments that other drivers did not want to handle. I helped the driver unload the boxes and carry them up to a second floor storage box on his dolly. I gave him a $10 tip for his trouble. I was glad that the shipment wasn’t time sensitive. That was the last time I used them.

      • boomersix says:

        @KyleOrton: Rex is better than you.

  2. shorty63136 says:

    I really can’t say anything snarky about this – I just feel terribly bad for all those people out of work.

  3. nicemarmot617 says:

    Pulling out often results in messy ends.

    That being said, they were so awful. I don’t understand how they could be making a profit in the US or anywhere else! I think they lost more packages for my company than they delivered!

  4. sleze69 says:

    Doesn’t this happen when any large business fails?

    • Canino says:

      @sleze69: Yeah, was going to say that. It’s sad, but not any different from any number of steel towns in the rust belt, coal towns in West Virginia, etc. etc. etc.

      • Con Seannery blames Facebook for the recession says:

        @Canino: Tobacco, textile and furniture towns in NC…

        Hell, this whole state for the longest time relied on those. China and Mexico hit about a decade ago, but every few years a major factory shuts down, it’s always bad.

  5. Ben_Q2 says:

    That that came up was “I kissed a girl” from some girl?

  6. Ash78 ain't got time to bleed says:

    I’d love to post about all the bad experiences I’ve had with them, both at home and at work.

    But that 60 Minutes bit was one of the saddest I’ve seen. It’s really scary when you see smaller towns that become so dependent upon a single employer (or even a single industry).

    • gamabunta says:

      @Ash78: *cough* Wal*Mart *cough*

      • Ash78 ain't got time to bleed says:

        @gamabunta: I assume you’re talking about Bentonville. Same deal there, but I don’t imagine Walmart is going anywhere soon (at least not quickly). OTOH, DHL has consistently been the worst carrier I’ve worked with over the past 5-7 years. Surprised it took so long.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @Ash78: Even though Caterpillar remains generally robust and seems to have good strategies in place for coping with the downturn, just the slowdown in their production is hitting Peoria hard … and a lot of their layoffs won’t even come in Peoria plants. Less work for, say, IT contractors, less work for trucking companies, layoffs in corporate and manufacturing …

      Peoria isn’t as Cat-dependent as it was in the 80s, I’m told (3 hospitals, only Level-I trauma center outside Chicago & St. Louis metro in IL, etc.), but it’s still kinda scary here right now. It’s very different than previous slowdowns I’ve been through where the local economy was more diverse. I don’t like it.

      • Sodypop says:

        @Eyebrows McGee: My husband is from Peoria. As soon as he could, he left and went to college and now we live in Chicago. But some people that he knows (younger than him even) all they saw/planned was “a job a Cat”: finish HS and straight to Cat. You think that their parents told them or show them how bad was in the 80s and how you can’t depend in those types of jobs…

        • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

          @Sodypop: I’m from Chicago. :) We moved down here on purpose and I love it (and neither of us is with Cat or with a company that depends on Cat for business). But it is a little scary how many folks in Peoria have no horizon beyond Peoria. It’s a great place to live and I get why people come back … but I don’t get why they never leave in the first place!

    • Con Seannery blames Facebook for the recession says:

      @Ash78: What’s worse is when you have a whole state with an economy on a few items. Furniture, tobacco, and textiles were the mainstay of North Carolina for the longest time, but when everyone quit smoking and the textiles and furniture went overseas about a decade ago, there were a lot of people hard up around here. Luckily, that hit’s already passed.

  7. courtneywoah says:

    wow. This made me cry.

  8. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Around 2003 DHL was doing a lot of hiring in my area (NJ), and I was all set to be hired but due to a scheduling conflict couldn’t attend their training. (The job was for a late night shift, which I could do, but the training was for two weeks 9-5, which I couldn’t). Glad I didn’t end up working for them!

  9. mad3air says:

    That’s what she said…

  10. jumpo64 says:

    Yeah, welcome to small town Ohio everyone. I’ve lived in it all my life. Only I was lucky enough to get an education at Ohio State. It’s not just Wilmington, It’s everywhere in this state. Personally, my town is supported by 3 factories, the fourth largest employer is probably the school system, followed by the hospital. Our factories are experiencing layoffs, buyouts of upper level employees, you name it. We’re on thin ice right now, if one factory fails then they all fail, and the city dies.

    However, my town has been on 60 minutes too. Only it was about our tremendous heroine problem for a town of only 6 or 7 thousand.

    Yeah, welcome to small town life.

  11. philmin says:

    Note to everyone, everywhere: If you work in a town where thousands and thousands of people work for the same company, and there isn’t much job opportunity outside of that company, history shows that there is a good chance eventually either the entire company or that factory/plant will fail. Stop being so surprised about this. See Flint, MI, etc.

    I genuinely feel bad for these people, but I’m just not sure what they were expecting. Things like this are still happening for people working in dieing industries and not making changes in their career now before that job is eventually lost.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      @philmin: This reminds me of those people who have a 401K and then buy stock in their own company. So you have your current income, and your future, tied to one company…

    • KevinReyn says:

      @philmin: not making changes in their career now before that job is eventually lost.

      While I agree with the spirit of this post the problem is it can be very difficult to make changes to a different career when there simply isnt much happening out there. In addition depending on age and education the understanding of what to retrain in may be difficult to identify. I ask you if you were these people rather then say you should have planned better why not help them understand where to go? Assume you were one of the DHL line workers what would you have told them 3 years ago to help them identify where to place their hopes?

      Its very easy to say to someone you should have seen the writing on the wall and planned accordingly and many of us will be that savy in the future but for those who are not what would you do to help them?

      Where would you be planning to move to job wise right now that would preserve the your income for your family shoudl you find out tomorrow that you dont have a job? What roll is isnulated from the current ecconmonic conditions? I am sure there are lots of us who would like to hear it :)

  12. KevinReyn says:

    I live in a small town called Waynesville not very far from Wilimington. The DHL employees are my neighbors and my friends. You cannot drive through my neighborhood without seeing the red Proud ABX Employee signs in the yards. My neighbors both were ABX employees. Its devastating. I agree its happening all over the country and its not just this little town. But it doenst change the fact that very proud and hard working people are losing their jobs and their homes. These are the worker bees who simply do their jobs as best they can in the hopes that those above them can figure out how to do things right.

    My are of ohio is not any different then other areas of the country but for me it has faces and names and hits home. We lost DHL, the GM truck and Bus Group shout down the Moraine plant just before Christmas for good. There is talk of NCR potentially moving operations else where. The company I work for is doing a body swap for offshore resources. We are taking it in the teeth here and all over the country. What makes it even harder is that even the potential of moving for another job is not even a reality as its almost impossible to sell a house here.

    Its just a really sad situation and for those of us fortunate enough to still be employed through all this I am sure we will if we are not already begin to have some level of survivors guilt as this trundles on.

  13. closethipster says:

    I always wondered what happened to Airborne Express. They were so good. Mystery solved. Now, what happened to OK cola?

    • mathew says:

      @closethipster: You had GOOD experiences with Airborne Express? I had nothing but awful, terrible, ghastly experience with them. Failing to deliver, delivering outside the window they gave me, delivering days late, telling me I had to drive to the airport to pick up the package I had paid to get delivered, and so on.

      • feckingmorons says:

        @mathew: I found Airborne less than good, but still better than UPS. FedEx and USPS always come through for me.

      • karmaghost says:

        @mathew: @feckingmorons: You know, it’s funny because I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with Airborne Express (package delivered to wrong building, etc.), a few issues with FedEx and absolutely no issues with UPS. It seems to really depend on your region and whether you get a good delivery guy to your residence.

    • Jonathan Capps says:

      @closethipster: DHL came in because ABX was a failing company, so either way, Wilmington was doomed by relying on one company/industry.

  14. faintandfuzzies says:

    Geez… Dont post a video clip if it isnt availble any longer!

  15. gamabunta says:

    I’ll never understand why these people have so many kids and no contingency plan for situations such as this. Once things get better I doubt they’ll change spending habits and go back to whatever it was that got them in such bad shape as to be living check to check.

    Don’t get me wrong, I feel very bad for the family; but when everyone is working for the same company you need to plan for the day that company won’t be there.

    • Pixelantes Anonymous says:

      @gamabunta: When you live paycheck to paycheck, what’s the contingency plan? Not eat?

      What you’re seeing is the complete devastation of middle class in America.

      • gamabunta says:

        @Pixelantes Anonymous:Yes, but my point is some people might not have to choose between feeding their kids or themselves if they didn’t live beyond their means and instead put some money aside (not a 401k) for when the shit hit the fan.

        I’m not blaming them for losing their jobs. I’m blaming them for not being responsible enough to think ahead. Things were going bad back in 2007. They had at least a year to save up before gas hit $4/gal in summer. Were they thinking things were going to get better by year’s end?

  16. ZukeZuke says:

    Sad story. I feel for the folks at the Hub.

    Too bad the drivers were so awful with deliveries. I think that really did them in with the poor rep that developed . Read the old Consumerist thread from last year on DHL and there are hundreds of stories of horrible service (mine included).

    • courtneywoah says:

      @gamabunta: I think these people have so many kids and no contingency plan is because thats the way they were raised. One family in particular in the video said that they never went to college but were putting their son through school when they had the money. They were trying to change their situation, like most people do, but were unable to do so due to economic factors. This happens a lot and the cycle is continued. It’s very tragic.

  17. I_have_something_to_say says:

    I thank my lucky stars everyday I come into my small office that I never took a large with a large corporation. We’re a small industrial distributor (30 people) and we’ve survived some pretty bad times before. We’re also able to change fairly quickly depending on market conditions and that’s helped us a lot.

    I worked for Kodak for a year when I was young and it’s a miracle that they’ve survived for as long as they have. Talk about a company run by a bunch of fucktards. They’re a classic example.

  18. concordia says:

    There’s something I don’t understand: DHL doesn’t service the US any more, right? If that’s the case, why do Newegg orders that ultimately get delivered through the Postal Service go through some DHL-branded system first?

    Worse yet, I’ve noticed that whenever this happens it always seems to take much longer to get processed through DHL than it would if I’d used UPS.

    • Posthaus says:


      While DHL ended it’s domestic shipping business, as far as I know they still operate their own express delivery service and still perform drop shipments through the USPS.

      • Anonymous says:

        DHL still does domestic shipments. They just pick and chose which customers they will want to do business with. When your rubbing millions of dollars per year in someones face its hard not to take it. DHL no longer handles drop shipments with USPS. That business when to Fedex.

    • karmaghost says:

      @concordia: I have wondered this myself! I ordered RAM from them a couple of weeks ago and I live in Central PA. They handed the RAM off to DHL, who then shipped it allllll the way to Kentucky, then shipped it back up the same route partially and delivered it to just north of Pittsburgh, where they handed it off to USPS and it sat for a whole week before being delivered here to me, 9 days later. So what could have been a ~240 mile trip in one or two days turned into a ~1150 mile trip over 9 days.

  19. yso says:

    this is my brother’s company. luckily, he’s found other work.

    on a side note though – why the assumption that everyone SHOULD go to college? All that does is make a college degree worth LESS. Look at numbers in Europe. Why are we making the college degree the big deal for everyone when in fact it ISN’T for everyone? Why not support people who just do technical jobs (not tech like computers but tech like vo-tech jobs)?

    • courtneywoah says:

      @yso: I agree with you about the college thing. However, I remember being told I needed to start preparing for college in middle-school. Not going to college was never presented as an option for me. That being said I think people in technical jobs are supported. There are plenty of jobs that one can work making a decent living that don’t require a college degree.

    • Ragman says:

      @yso: Part of that problem would be employers who list a college degree as a requirement for positions that could be done by someone without a degree, but with relevant experience.

      I’ve been turned down for engineering and programming jobs that I had the required experience for, but didn’t have a BSCS or BSEE.

    • Ragman says:

      @yso: Double dipping…
      “why the assumption that everyone SHOULD go to college? ” Because getting a HS diploma doesn’t mean crap with No Child Left Behind, so it’s now up to a college BS or BA to be the new “High School Diploma”.

    • buzzybee says:

      @yso: A college degree provides necessary education for adapting to new industries and technological change. That is why it is valuable. You use general concepts and teach students to apply those concepts to a wide range of topics.

      When technology or the economic climate changes, someone with a college education adapts. The reason we see so many skilled workers unemployed is that the market no longer requires their skills (due to cheaper machinery, production processes, etc.) and at this point, their economic value is zero. At this point you could retrain the workers, but as an employer what would you do:

      Hire someone that can adapt to changes and realize their economic value? Or would you pay to constantly retrain a costly workforce?

      People pursue a college degree because it provides value and the tools to remain employed. It’s as simple as that.

      • aphexbr says:

        @buzzybee: I’m wondering why you think that a college education is necessary for someone to be able to adapt to industry changes. Is the guy who worked his way through a company for 5 years really not worth as much as the guy who spent that time in a classroom?

        I know several college graduates who are worthless and lazy, mainly because they got the course paid for and spent the time goofing off (usually going for the easiest-sounding courses rather than those that would be challenging). Meanwhile, there are numerous entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses that have lasted decades, all without the “help” of college.

        It’s actually very insulting for you to assume that because someone didn’t spend time at college that they’re somehow incapable of learning and adapting. yeah, college is valuable but it’s far from the whole story, and you’re a fool if you believe otherwise.

      • captainpicard says:


        does it? it takes near to no skill or educational abilities to get certain college degrees. I got a 2 year degree and worked while I transfereed to a 4 year college to finish off the last 2 years of my degree. Let me say that I learned nearly nothing in those last two years and the only reason I stayed was to get the worthless peice of cardboard that now sits in my closet collecting dust.

    • Con Seannery blames Facebook for the recession says:

      @yso: AMEN! College is great for some people, best thing they can do. For other people, they need a trade school, an apprenticeship, time in the military, or just to straight up get a job and work right out of high school. Unfortunately, college is presented as the ONLY option in many schools and families. And we wonder why people get Liberal Arts degrees…

    • deep.thought says:

      @yso: It’s apparently too late for a college degree to be worth less. I had an economic professor whom, along with her husband, studied labor and real value of wages. If I remember precisely, they found that the effect of an undergraduate degree on average salary was essentially nonexistent.

  20. Repique says:

    So… what can areas like this do to avoid being hit by this again? Because, you know, by the 1980s, a lot of towns had already been hard-hit by losing their major employers, and yet obviously more such places have sprung up again since. What can small towns actually do to break this cycle? These employers look like godsends when they show up, so how do you convince people to turn them down in the interest of a more stable local economy?

  21. dahlink_natasha says:

    Well…when my father worked at his place of business and he got laid off, we had to do the exact same thing. However, they had contingency plans upon contingency plans ready in case anything went wrong and my father couldn’t earn pay. They didn’t pay out a cent anywhere, toward anything, if it wasn’t absolutely nessessary. My father was making a high six figure salary in the early 80’s but we lived like he made a fraction of that much. I wonder about people who have 3, 4, 5 kids and don’t have any “emergency plan” whatsoever to take care of them–any sort of nest egg to tide the family over for six months at least. I know plenty of parents who make sure that their kids have the latest game platform, Hanna Montana toys, etc but don’t have anything set in place should Mom and Dad lose their jobs. I feel sorry for them, I really do and I hope they get back on their feet…

    I wonder what the people who are getting laid off think when they read all the stories of bad service on sites like consumerist. Even the news story above mentioned that customers left. If your business provides bad service, it’s not going to be around for long.

  22. buzzybee says:

    Why on earth do these people ask for a bailout? We have two other “well-run” major shipping companies. If DHL dies, what is the downside other than cleaning up the industry and repositioning the resources that were allocated to a third inefficient shipper.

    Should we reward the company that entered an already crowded market and in a failed attempt to gain market share, tried to undercut its competitors? This is a perfect example on how not to run a business and it shouldn’t be rewarded.

    • Con Seannery blames Facebook for the recession says:

      @buzzybee: Bailouts are fundamentally flawed. We have an economy based on winners and losers. If you reward the losers, the winners can’t win. If you can’t win, why try? Just get big fast and get your Government cheese. Let the taxpayer foot your bills. That’s the way to undermine the free market, right there. All aboard the Socialism train! Choo Choo! Bush stupidly pushed these bailouts and the Democrats were more than happy to oblige him, and now Obama’s socialist agenda is going to keep that up. Better dead than red, man…

    • jamar0303 says:

      @buzzybee: And DHL didn’t die per se… They’re perfectly fine in most other countries, including China which is far more socialist than Obama could ever be considered.

  23. yzerman says:

    This is why its not always the greatest thing to be bought out by a outside company, outside the US. It’s sad, but I hope its a lesson to be learned that you can’t build towns around 1 company or 1 type of business . Just look at detroit and michigan with the auto business.

  24. G_Money21 says:

    jeez, that was an awful video. I feel bad for these folks but a person in a situation like this needs to “see the writing on the wall”.

    I know college isnt for everyone, but you need a SKILL that sets you apart from the average joe. The one woman in the piece who was a supervisor and had been with them for 18 years, i bet she did shift scheduling, pushed some paperwork, etc for a group of x amount of employees. Anyone can do that, she offers no special skill. Now she is probably used to a higher than normal salary for being a supervisor and will have an ego that wont let her accept a lower position somewhere else.

    Go to college, go to vocational, go get a skill people, thats the only way to survive. Make yourself indispensable

  25. QrazyQat says:

    These employers look like godsends when they show up

    Do they really? When DHL took over (with the help of John McCain and his lobbyists) the community — in the form of the state of Ohio and the local governments — provided $400 million dollars for road and facility upgrades for DHL for a net gain of about 1,000 jobs. That’s $400,000 per job. Just giving $400,000 to a thousand people would’ve done the same thing (or better) and they now wouldn’t care that they’re out of a job.

    This sort of giveaway is common; the question is why do these massive giveaways to private companies look good to anyone who isn’t skimming money off the deal?

  26. vladthepaler says:

    Off-topic: Thanks for putting the “More” links back on the main page, that makes it a lot easier to read your site. Now if only you could do something about all the horizontal scrolling…

  27. John Koval says:

    My hometown was Connellsville,Pa. I put pictures on facebook on what happened to my town after the coal mines and steel mills closed down. It is a ghost town now.[]

  28. Brunette Bookworm says:

    We used DHL for our inter-company deliveries. They provided good service and I never had issues with them losing any packages. They offered pre-paid envelopes for anywhere in the US, which was great for us. I could buy those, fill them with whatever we needed to send to another plant and just drop them in a box and they would arrive the next day. Transitioning everything over has been a pain.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      @Red-headed bookworm: Jesus, who did your office manager sleep with to get that level of service out of DHL? I was a temp for three years and I never saw DHL deliver a package properly, whether at the office or at home. Don’t get me started on the time a client sent us crucial legal papers to sign off on so we could seal a deal with a government agency, papers that were due back to the client the next day by return overnight service. The DHL driver, rather than delivering to our 20-story uptown office building, attempted to deliver the documents thirty miles away at someone’s lakefront fishing shack. When nobody answered the door, he ditched the parcel under a pickup truck. After two hours’ worth of phone calls, DHL finally sent the driver back to look for it, and he claimed he couldn’t find the house because he didn’t see a pickup truck he recognized.

  29. El_Fez says:

    When I was a kid back in the eighties, and I saw news about the Africa droughts, I always thought “well, why don’t they just go to where the food is instead of living in the desert.”

    Of course now as an adult, I know that’s not feasible – so when I start thinking “So your job has shut down? Fine, move out of town and go where there is work”, there’s probably something I’m overlooking. But it seems simple – go where the jobs are. Move away from that little one-company hick town and go to a big(ger) city.

    Problem solved.

  30. dave731 says:

    I shipped some industrial parts from Mexico in 2006 and they lost them for a while. All our tracking inquiries and phone calls were useless. The local supervisor at the hub was a jerk to us. Then miraculously they found the packages and delivered them weeks later, after they were needed of course. BIH DHL

  31. Laura Weiss Linger says:

    I watched this episode of 60 Minutes. I was crying for those poor people by the end of the segment. It’s easy for assholes to be flippant along the lines of “well, isn’t that what happens whenever a business goes belly up?” It still doesn’t make it right.

  32. merekat says:

    My job with a non-profit puts me in Wilmington on a regular basis. Watching the DHL situation over the last 8 months has been like watching a man drown and not being able to throw him a rope. I think the local and state government have failed the DHL workers in helping them prepare for this outcome, and now that it’s here, they want to bitch and moan about how hard it is, get on TV, and then do nothing.

    Ohio needs to change its license plate from “Birthplace of Aviation” to “Welcome to the Third World of the Midwest.”

  33. chrisjames says:

    CRAP! I thought for a minute it would say Wilmington, DE. That would have been better a better city to wipe out.

  34. Corporate-Shill says:

    The competition for the lowest price has struck dead another participant.

    Airborne Express/DHL always advertised themselves as cheaper never better.

    DHL could have improved coast to coast shipping times at a slightly higher price than the competition and have gained huge market shares, instead DHL advertised “same as them” (meaning UPS/FedEX) level of services at lower than “them” prices.

    And look what it got them.

  35. ageshin says:

    You would think by now communities would have learned that corps only have a sense of responseability to their own pockets and those of their shear holders.

  36. ceez says:

    if there’s a god please help these families as well as all others across america

    it’s unfair that the ‘super power’ of the world is buckling under it’s own weigh of greed by wallstreet and those that just wanted more for themselves….shame on you corrupt america!

  37. bigcat39 says:

    College (For many if not most) is the second largest self perpetuating scam in history. Heh. Should’ve seen my son’s faces when I informed them that I don’t believe in college, and unless they could do it on their own dime, they Were Not Going. Paying for someone to go party (which both of them would most assuredly done)was just not going to happen. The highlight of raising the little bastards

  38. parad0x360 says:

    So let me get this all straight. A successful American shipping company which employed pretty much an entire town was bought by a German company as a quick way into American based shipping and then they ran said company into the ground, closed up shop in the US and fired everyone?

    Anyone else have issues with foreign companies buying American companies, changing the way they do business and they cutting their losses and going home?

  39. LoraMc says:

    DHL did itself in. You cant run a shipping business employing full-time employees around the clock. This is why UPS has been so successfull. They hire part-time cause moving packages in and out should happen within a 4 hour period, not 8 hours. I feel really bad for those folks. I live in Louisville where UPS is one of our major employers. I know if they picked up and left it would devastate our city.

  40. Anonymous says:

    DHL was done in by a lack of change. As a former driver of Airborne and DHL, the only thing that change was the paint on the trucks and uniforms. MGMT was pitiful, throwing around overtime and not controlling it. Frank Pehlke, a sup at the Alsip Illinois station was a pitiful speciman for a human being. That piece of crap would lie to your face, about anything and everything. He would change the service records so it would benefit his bonus pay, so you can imagine how he felt about how the freight was delivered.