Even with almost a million dollars in welfare coming their way, Wal-Mart has postponed yet another store — this time in a small Georgia city that already has one supercenter just minutes away. The city of Albany, Georgia is known as the “Good Life City.” According to Mayor Willie Adams, Albany is the region’s economic, healthcare, military and recreational hub. The city is perhaps most famous for the floodwaters that ravaged it in 1994. The city proudly says it overcame the flood because “city government responded with a national award-winning recovery program. Indeed, our bread-and-butter is our local government, which is a Georgia Municipal Association-designated “City of Ethics.” Despite the ‘good life’ in Albany, people are voting with their feet. The city has lost 3% of its population over the past two decades, and today its population stands at roughly 76,000. Big box retailers have also come to Albany looking for the ‘good life.’ One of those companies, Wal-Mart, maintains superstore #588 on Ledo Road in Albany. Times are so tough in Albany, that even a Wal-Mart looks like a job-producer to local officials. It was with great disappointment that city leaders learned this week that Wal-Mart’s plans for a second superstore on the east side of Albany was being pushed back a year. WALB TV called the postponement “another blow” to Dougherty County’s economy. The bad news was imparted in a joint phone call to city and county officials, who were told the new store is now expected to open at the earliest in 2011. The reaction from local officials was predictable. “It certainly will improve the area, it will certainly be an economic boom to the city of Albany,” Ward 1 Commissioner Jon Howard told the WALB. “I guess the bad part about it is those 300+ jobs could certainly benefit the Dougherty County and Albany economy.” Chairman of the county Commissioners, Jeff Sinyard, assured residents that Wal-Mart was not walking out on the city. “Obviously we were disappointed to hear that it was being postponed one year, at the same time, we were very happy that it had not been taken off their list. It’s incredibly important to East Albany and Dougherty County to have those jobs and to have that kind of growth, particularly in an area that really deserves it, needs it.” Until this week, local officials thought the new superstore would begin construction within the next few months. The city and county have worked hard to give Wal-Mart everything it wanted — including a lavish bail out of $800,000 in taxpayer subsidy for road improvements at the superstore site. The developer of the project gets that welfare once the store is built and open. But even this special deal couldn’t keep the superstore project on track.
The city of Albany, Georgia was in the national news this past week because of Wal-Mart — but it had nothing to do with a second superstore being put on hold. The city, which has been battling crime for years, had bad news headlines from the parking lot of their existing Wal-Mart superstore. According to the Associated Press, a 58 year old woman was found dead in a car parked at the Albany Wal-Mart. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations identified the woman as Joyce Hutchinson. A Wal-Mart shopper found the body in the back seat of a car in the parking lot. Police say that the woman appeared to be living out of her car. An autopsy has been performed on the body at a GBI crime lab in Decatur, Georgia. No cause of death has been released in the case. The Lee County Sheriffs office said officials would have to wait for toxicology reports before releasing further information. There were no obvious signs of trauma or sexual assault, but the body was found nude from the waist down. The Wal-Mart incident put the ‘good life’ city into the news in a less than desirable light. Readers are urged to send the following comment to Albany Mayor Willie Adams, at: http://www.albany.ga.us/city_commission/cc_feedback_mayor.htm : “Dear Mayor Adams, I know you must be disappointed that Wal-Mart has delayed plans for a second supercenter in your city. But perhaps that’s good news for the good life city. It’s hard to see why the city would settle for more low-wage, low benefit jobs — especially when these ‘new’ jobs will basically replace existing jobs at other merchants in the city, most notably your grocery stores, like Winn-Dixie, Kroger, and Save-A-Lot. What do you imagine will happen if a major grocery store, like another Wal-Mart supercenter, opens up in a community that is losing consumers? Your population has shrunk — 3% in the past two decades. You have added one superstore since then, and now the same company wants to open a second store. You can predict the outcome — yet the county and city are actually subsidizing the developer with a huge gift from taxpayers of $800,000 in corporate welfare. If this Wal-Mart project cannot stand on its own feet financially, let it fail. It’s not fair to existing merchants to shovel cash to Wal-Mart’s developer, while existing merchants get no breaks at all. Not only will the new superstore put local grocery stores out of business — it will cannibalize existing sales at the one Wal-Mart superstore you already have. According to a study produced in 2003 by the consulting firm Retail Forward, “for every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens in the next five years, two supermarkets will close their doors.” Tell that to your area merchants who are struggling to survive in this recession. Albany is destroying its existing job base by throwing tax dollars at rich corporations that are already putting the smaller merchants out of business. Although jobs and taxes will not increase, there are two things that will rise: traffic and crime. One would think that with this week’s gruesome discovery in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Albany, the residents would have had enough of Wal-Marts. So look on the bright side: Wal-Mart won’t darken your door for another year. Who knows, perhaps they will decide not to cannibalize their own superstore after all, and quietly move on in search of the next corporate hand out.”