It’s Robin Hood in reverse. A community in Georgia wants to take from its struggling taxpayers, to give to the world’s largest retailer. The state of Georgia has one of the highest concentrations of Wal-Mart supercenters per capita in the nation, with 127 supercenters and 9 discount stores. The state is also a base for distribution centers in the south, with 6 distribution centers within its borders. Georgia also has 11 Wal-Mart “dark stores” that have been shut down by the company so larger superstores could be built. The city of Albany, Georgia (pop. 77,730 ) already has a Wal-Mart on Ledo Road. But according to WALB TV, Wal-Mart has plans for a new supercenter on the east side of Albany, and the developer wants taxpayers to help pay for the road improvements needed to make the project happen. Albany calls itself the “Good Life City,” and boasts of being the region’s “economic, healthcare, military and recreational hub.” The city was hard hit by the Flood of 1994, but municipal officials say the community has rebounded. The city also doesn’t try to hide the fact that it is engaged in an on-going battle against crime. Together with officials in Dougherty County, Albany officials say they are “bringing new life and opportunities downtown.” But a new Wal-Mart outside of the downtown will suck the life and the opportunities out of the downtown area. Albany’s Mayor Willie Adams, Jr. says “we take our role as Southwest Georgia’s heart and soul seriously,” yet the Mayor has encouraged the wooing of national chain stores like Wal-Mart, which drain the heart and soul out of most communities. The new Wal-Mart, which is proposed for the intersection of Cordele Road and Clark Avenue, plans to close the land deal within the next six months. City officials have been abetting the superstore chain by giving initial approval to a “road improvement incentive” under which the developer will pay for about $800,000 worth of road improvements at the entrances and exits to the property — and will be paid back by city and county taxpayers. The public is subsidizing the world’s largest retailer, with profits last year in excess of $12 billion. The city’s Planning Director is very proud of this corporate welfare. Planning Director Howard Brown told WABC news, “The genius of this is that the city and county will not pay one dime until the actual building is built and receives a certificate of occupancy from the planning and development department.” Local officials are thrilled to pony up $800,000, which they say will leverage up to $4.5 million in taxes the new Wal-Mart will pay, plus the 500 jobs at the supercenter. Albany officials have taken the fall from Wal-Mart’s voodoo economics.
The “Good Life City” thinks it has made a good deal with Wal-Mart. The reality is, Wal-Mart and the developer did not need corporate welfare to make this project work. It is unlikely that Wal-Mart would have walked away from this deal if it had not received $800,000 in welfare. The fact that the city doesn’t pay all that money until the store opens is irrelevant — it’s still taxpayers money going to support a private developer’s project that would have been constructed anyway. The public’s money is being thrown away for a project that was on track without public subsidy. The hope of 500 new jobs is also misplaced, since the “new” jobs will largely come from increased market share Wal-Mart picks up from stores like Kmart, Sears and Target, which already exist in Albany. Wal-Mart may also close its existing store on Ledo Road, creating a net impact of few, if any, new jobs. Readers are urged to email Albany Mayor Willie Adams, Jr. at [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Adams, Wal-Mart will be the only one celebrating the ‘good life’ in your city if they get public funding to build a new supercenter. This project will not generate jobs, and most of the taxes it pays will only offset the taxes lost when other area merchants go under. There is absolutely no economic reason to give Wal-Mart $800,000 in free roadwork. If Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, cannot afford to pay for the road improvements needed for this new location, city taxpayers should not bail them out. This project should only proceed on its own money — not that of taxpayers. This Wal-Mart will not have any positive spin-off impact on downtowns, but will only ensure that the downtown never recaptures its small business base. You might be able to attract gift shops, or antique shops downtown, but no merchant that competes with Wal-Mart will want to stay downtown and lose their shirt financially. I urge you to make this project stand on its own financially, and turn off Wal-Mart’s corporate welfare spigot in Albany.”