In a Nov. 27 Viewpoints column, "Shopping local is better community investment," Bruce Maiman wrote that "I don't dislike Wal-Mart at all, but I choose to shop elsewhere. I shop local wherever I can." I'd like to share a different perspective about Wal-Mart, which is based on my experience as the former Folsom city manager a town with a thriving Wal-Mart and a volunteer business leader at the Sacramento Metro Chamber and for the Next Economy effort.
Wal-Mart's success can, in fact, help the local economy grow in very significant ways. In fact, the Next Economy regional prosperity plan highlights the potential to grow a local business cluster that Wal-Mart will directly support: agriculture and food. Wal-Mart buys local products, and is among the largest buyers of California-grown fruits, vegetables and livestock, which connects local farmers and ranchers to the world. Wal-Mart is well-positioned to be a strategic partner in growing this cluster, which will open doors to distribution channels through its expertise and business relationships.
My local government experience leads me to question the author's claims that Wal-Mart receives government subsidies. My experience is to the contrary. Tax increment financing disappeared with the abolition of redevelopment agencies. Previously, those subsidies usually went to the shopping center developer. Notably, Maiman's website resource does not identify any subsidies to Wal-Mart in our region.
Wal-Mart just completed an expansion and "face-lift" for its Folsom store, which sits in a shopping center that's become largely vacant through the recession. This revitalization will likely encourage other businesses to locate in this center and avoid the possibility of actual blight. Wal-Mart received no city subsidies for this work. All of the property and sales tax benefits from the expansion will inure directly to Folsom and other government agencies.
I volunteer in several nonprofit organizations. Through that work, I know that Wal-Mart is one of the largest cash contributors to nonprofits in the country. Wal-Mart donates locally to efforts such as the River City Food Bank and City Year. Wal-Mart employees serve on several important nonprofit boards, and Wal-Mart provides incentives for its associates to volunteer. Inferences of unfair political advantage will deter civic engagement by businesses with choices on where to invest their philanthropic dollars.
To develop momentum for economic growth, we can and must help small business by cutting red tape and regulations that make it harder to keep doors open. We help large business by creating an environment that is friendly and supporting not one that attacks success and expansion based upon misinformation and exaggeration.
It's time to give Wal-Mart some credit and find ways to partner with it, rather than provoke the company to look elsewhere to expand its business.