On January 4, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that it was only 19 degrees in Pennfield, Michigan, and that Wal-Mart’s plans to build a supercenter in this township appeared frozen. Township officials learned that Wal-Mart had put its supercenter plans on ice for a year. The superstore was slated to be built on Northeast Capital Avenue, but township Supervisor Rob Behnke said there will be no store for at least another year. Behnke said Wal-Mart had planned on building 11 superstores in Michigan this year, but they were all in limbo. Wal-Mart’s ice capades in Michigan go back to a hastily-arranged announcement the company made at its annual shareholder’s meeting in June, 2007 that it was scaling back the number of new supercenters, and delaying as many as 80 stores that were meant to open in 2007, until 2008 or later. But Behnke said he found out something was amiss when he spoke with the developer, Atwell-Hicks. Behnke then spoke with a Wal-Mart public affairs “manager” who confirmed the change in plans. Wal-Mart had originally planned to begin construction in the summer of 2008, but the retailer wasn’t expected to begin construction until the summer of 2009. “It’s disappointing from the township’s perspective because we were looking forward to development along the Capital Avenue corridor and, obviously, Wal-Mart was a critical part of that,” Behnke told the Battle Creek Enquirer. The Supervisor said Wal-Mart’s setback would not slow down the township’s plans to expand commercial activity along Capital Avenue. Fast forward one year, and Wal-Mart is receding further into the future. The Enquirer reports this week that the Pennfield supercenter has encountered yet another delay. Now Wal-Mart is saying that work on the store won’t begin until late 2009, or early 2010, which means the soonest it would be finished is late in 2010. Supervisor Behnke sounded like a broken record. “It’s obviously disappointing to us, but not a surprise when you look at the economy we are dealing with today. We are still hopeful and it’s better that it comes late than not at all.” Not only was the message from Wal-Mart bad news — but the cavalier manner in which it was delivered was even worse. Behnke apparently learned of the new freeze in plans on February 5th, through an email from Wal-Mart’s ‘senior manager of public affairs.’ Wal-Mart’s email said the project was being delayed, due to the “current economic climate,” which has actually been much kinder to Wal-Mart than most retailers. The corporation is proposing many new stores across America, but in Pennfield they appear to be iced over.
Supervisor Behnke wants taxpayers to pay for a marketing campaign targeted to the big national chain stores. “We have well over 300 to 400 acres of property that is already zoned commercial,” Behnke said. “We are going to go out and make sure businesses know who we are.” Wal-Mart already knows who they are in Pennfield. The retailer has a supercenter in Battle Creek just 9 miles away. It might take shoppers in Pennfield as much as 15 minutes to get to the supercenter in Battle Creek, but township officials want their own store inside their township boundaries. It’s this lack of regional planning that has turned every little hamlet and township into a retail fiefdom, each wanting the logos the other hamlet has, regardless of how redundant it becomes. Pennfield had only 8,792 residents as of 2006. Their population has actually fallen since 2000, when there were 8,913 people in the township. It’s population has gone nowhere over the past two decades. As they bulk up with big retailers, they are simply pushing out the smaller retail businesses in town. Companies like Wal-Mart add no value to the Pennfield economy, and create no ‘new’ jobs. They move jobs from other cash registers. Wal-Mart has been over-saturating its market areas for years, but in the summer of 2007 they hit the Wal. The company finally succumbed to pressure inside and outside the company to stop building stores so close to one another. Wal-Mart had admitted that it has been cutting into its own sales per square foot — which is one of the reasons its same store sales figures have plummeted in recent years. Readers are urged to call or fax Supervisor Rob Behnke at (269) 968-8549 or (fax) 269-968-2021, with this message: “You should be delighted that Wal-Mart has delayed construction of its proposed superstore for the second time. That gives Pennfield time to pass a zoning ordinance limiting the size of store footprints. Pennfield’s population does not warrant a huge supercenter, especially with one already located only 9 miles away in Battle Creek. Instead of trying to woo national chain stores, which come and go, why not stimulate small business development in Pennfield? If the new Capital Avenue corridor plan you are pushing is just to hunt down big box stores — you are undermining your own economy. Use your office to expand local businesses, and keep your dollars circulating in the local economy. When it comes to Wal-Mart — it’s better never than late. You are not chasing jobs or revenues when you chase Wal-Mart and Costco. Look closer to home for real economic growth.”