Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Pullman businesses not afraid of retail giant"

A story in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News by Hillary Hamm:
Hughes: Many local business owners don’t believe Wal-Mart would adversely affect community

Sam Dial isn’t intimidated by Wal-Mart.

The owner of Sam Dial Jewelers in Pullman said his products are far superior to anything Wal-Mart offers in its jewelry department. His staff know the trade, and they provide a level of customer service unavailable at a big-box store.

“I’m a lot different,” he said of his 4-year-old downtown business. “It’s a whole different realm.”

Fritz Hughes, executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, said Dial’s viewpoint mimics that of many small-business owners in town. The 2004 announcement that Wal-Mart planned to build a super center on Bishop Boulevard wasn’t a huge shock to local establishments.

“They’ve been living in a shadow of Wal-Mart eight miles away (in Moscow),” he said.

The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development has appealed Pullman’s approval of the retail giant’s site plan. PARD will continue its legal battle to keep Wal-Mart out of the city in the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Spokane. A hearing date has not been set.

Tom Forbes, co-founder of Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity in Pullman — which formed as a counter group to PARD — said he hopes a recent study concerning Wal-Mart will convince undecided Pullman residents that the store’s presence in town wouldn’t be so bad.

“Not only is it not the end of the world when Wal-Mart comes to town, but there are positives too,” Forbes said. “People have concerns now, but once the store has been here a few years, it will alleviate a lot of those worries.”

The study, released in December by the Chico (Calif.) Economic Planning Corporation, shows 95 percent of people interviewed believe Wal-Mart had positively affected their community. Interviews were conducted over the phone with participants from 15 Wal-Mart Supercenter communities, including Stockton, Palm Springs and Yuba City. Of 30 potential participants, the survey crew received a 74 percent return rate.

The study, commissioned by Wal-Mart, showed that in a majority of the communities, local merchants had not gone out of business as a result of the store’s opening, traffic did not increase, property values did not go down and the corporation made charitable contributions to local organizations. Overall, the study revealed that Wal-Mart positively affected the communities.

A majority of the survey participants lived in cities with populations between 50,000 and 75,000. Cities with populations as low as 10,000 people and with more than 100,000 residents also were represented.

Karianne Fallow, Wal-Mart public affairs manager for Idaho, said the study validates others that have shown the store does not have an ominous presence in communities.

“There are a number of economic surveys with similar results. We continuously receive high marks on working with communities and on the commitments we make with communities,” she said. “This survey shows that, despite misconceptions, Wal-Mart does have a positive impact on the areas where we operate.”

Hughes agreed. He said the increased traffic caused by a Wal-Mart could positively impact the business climate in town, adding that more businesses may come to Pullman because of Wal-Mart.

“When you have that mass of traffic coming in, they will stop,” he said. People will likely stop at other local businesses for gas, food or if they see something of interest. “I think it will bring a lot more people into the community.”

Hughes added that a Wal-Mart in Pullman could strengthen local business by increasing creativity and customer service.

“If you are selling something that Wal-Mart does, you have to look at how you can put a different spin on it,” he said.

Dial said a new perspective by many Pullman residents may help retain small local businesses and lure new businesses into town.

“The Pullman community really wants to see business growth,” he said. “We have a leak of retail dollars.”

Forbes said most studies conducted regarding Wal-Mart have been academic or economic in nature, analyzing wages, employment benefits and how a super store will affect the local economy.

Forbes said he is aware that there are some who may scoff at the study. He said he hopes that people who are undecided on the issue may realize that Wal-Mart isn’t so bad after all.

Forbes said although the survey was conducted in California, it has relevance on the Palouse. It also demonstrates what happens to a community after a Wal-Mart Supercenter opens its doors.

“I think it shows kind of what we’ve been saying all along. It’s follow-up to see what had happened,” he said. “That’s more of the kind of information that needs to come out — the follow-up. What happens later?”

PARD spokesman T.V. Reed did not return calls seeking comment.
Hillary left out one other important point from the survey: crime does not increase when Wal-Mart opens.

The complete CEPCO survey can be found here. The survey's key findings can be found here. The CEPCO press release can be found here.

Here is a summary of the key findings:

  • Over 95% believe that Wal-Mart has “positively” impacted their community.

  • An overwhelming number of communities would recommend Wal-Mart Supercenters to other communities, and not one respondent expressed any regret of having a Supercenter built in their community. This support can be attributed to:
  • Supercenters provide communities with greater consumer choice and savings, new jobs, sales tax revenue, and charitable contributions.

  • Wal-Mart is viewed as a good corporate citizen.

  • Sales tax revenue for local public services and economic development were among the most compelling reasons for local government to approve Supercenter projects.

  • Respondents gave Wal-Mart high marks for working with communities to address community concerns and to develop accepting architectural designs that complemented communities and neighborhoods.
  • The primary concerns related to Supercenters being constructed were consistent from one surveyed community to another. The most common concerns associated with Supercenters were general quality of life issues, such as impacts on traffic, threat to local business, and concerns related to Wal-Mart’s employee benefits. In communities that experienced some initial opposition, respondents believe that perceived threats to small business, traffic, property values and crime were either not real or eminent, or were mitigated through the local planning process.

  • The survey uncovered that despite the initial reaction of some communities, all came to accept the benefits of Supercenters after the projects were developed.

  • Over 90% of respondents believe that their Supercenter has made a “positive impact” on the issues of job creation and economic development.

  • An overwhelming number of communities did not believe Supercenters were responsible for other businesses going out of business. In fact, 63.5% believe Supercenters have a “positive impact” on existing businesses, and 32% believe that Supercenters have neither a positive or negative impact (no impact).

  • Dispelling concerns that Supercenters increase community crime rates, 86% believe the Supercenter has neither positively nor negatively (no impact)impacted crime rates in their community.

  • While many communities believe that Supercenters had a positive impact on property values, not one cited an example loss of property values.
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    April E. Coggins said...

    Now that Ken Vogel is no longer in business, I don't know of a single business that is against Wal-Mart because they feel threatened. There may be a handful who object to Wal-Mart personally because of their left-wing ideologies, but most express out-right joy at the thought of a huge retailer drawing in new customers.

    Paul E. Zimmerman said...

    April -

    Count me in as one of the joyful. My shop is located right at the corner where it will all happen.

    I finally got in touch with Kelley, too. Thanks for that lead! :)

    Michael said...

    WalMart wins in Maryland.

    Cynthia said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Cynthia said...

    I am another business owner whom you can count "in." As a PR/Marcom professional, I look forward to Wal Mart driving traffic from surrounding regions to Pullman and slowing down the leakage of disposable dollars to other markets. Wal Mart pays more per hour than many boutique and very small businesses are able to pay. While much has been said about their health care program, the fact is that small biz here cannot afford to offer any health insurance. The university itself avoids paying health insurance on many part-time staff and adjuncts.

    Small busineses make up the majority of the Pullman market when counting number of businesses. In a community whose majority population is students, many of whom are gravely in need of extra income, Wal Mart will help them. It will also give the majority of the population here -- students -- access to low-cost goods within their budgetary limits.

    What I wonder, though, is why there has not been a continuous hue and cry in Moscow over Wal Mart impacts there, if the outcomes are so horrific.