Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Suicide Stampede of Wal-Mart Haters

I found some rather interesting data about the financial impacts of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

This is from an arbitrator who was settling a dispute between the Omak Police Officers Guild and the City of Omak:
City revenues from taxes have increased slightly over the past four years. Omak’s 2004 current expense budget, shows $1,830,200 in tax revenue which reflects an increase of $50,000 in retail sales from the 2003 budget. In 2004, Omak expects to receive $940,000 in sales tax revenues, while property tax revenues account for $635,000. In 1997 and 1998 sales tax revenue increased 2.19% and 3.6% respectively; in 1999, 2000, and 2001 sales tax revenue remained relatively flat. However, in 2002 and 2003 sales tax revenue increased by 6.32% and 8.4% respectively, primarily due to the expansion of Walmart into a “Super Walmart.”

In addition to the increasing Omak’s sales tax revenue, the new Super Walmart employs
more than 325 people
. Additionally, Omak is home to several other fairly large “chain” or franchised retail establishments including Penny’s, Safeway, and Ace Hardware. Omak is also the medical center for the area. The Omak Clinic has recently expanded, and a new Eye and Ear Clinic has opened. Omak shows other signs of a growing economy, e.g., increased auto sales and new housing developments.
This description of Omak appeared in the Seattle P-I:
A few weeks ago, while I was returning from British Columbia, a large sign promoting downtown Omak caught my eye near southbound Route 97. It had been strategically placed north of the new Wal-Mart.

The white sign with bright red lettering just read, "Kick back in Omak" and directed motorists to turn right at the next traffic light to reach downtown (the Wal-Mart is on the left).

Despite the highway reroute and the Wal-Mart, there still seems to be a lot of vitality and spark in downtown Omak, with some excellent restaurants and small shops. Several folks I spoke with even complained about too much automobile traffic through town.

In a bold move several years ago, city engineers installed a push-button crosswalk controller at one of the main downtown intersections. Some townsfolk are even lobbying for a second controller at the north end of town.
This flies in the face of the gloomy predictions made in a May 1994 article in 14850 magazine:
This year, Wal-Mart is opening more than 150 new stores. Many of them are in places that have so far escaped the discount invasion-places like Omak, Washington, an isolated town of fewer than 5,000 people in the rugged northeastern part of the state. Downtown Omak has stayed alive. But by next year, if all goes according to plan, this tiny town will have two huge discount stores staring at each other across the highway. "After Wal-Mart and K mart fight it out, you aren't going to have a downtown Omak," says Kenneth Munsell, director of the Small Towns Institute in nearby Ellensburg, Washington. Nevertheless, the approval for giant stores made it through the town planning commission in two days. "They are blithely unaware of the consequences" Munsell says.
It is the Wal-Mart haters that are "blithely unaware of the consequences" when Wal-Mart comes to town.

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